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Travelers Still Not Comfortable With E-tickets

(April 4, 2002)
(Updated March 8, 2003)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that, by the year 2005, 50 percent of all airline tickets worldwide will be issued in the form of e-tickets. In the U.S., the use of e-tickets is already over 50 percent. United, for example, recently stated nearly 75 percent of its tickets are e-tickets, and American estimates 65 percent of its tickets are e-tickets.

E-tickets are becoming more popular because they simplify our trips as well as the ticket-issuing process. They never get lost, are environmentally friendly (by saving trees), and save the airline money. They also save us paper ticket fees. Many travelers use them with no problems. Yet, according to the volumes of e-mails I receive, many consumers are still reluctant to use them for fear that going "ticketless" will leave them vulnerable.

Here are some thoughts on e-tickets that may ease the apprehension surrounding them.

Using E-Tickets

When you book e-tickets, there are some things you need to keep in mind. Here are some tips to make the process easier:

  • When you make reservations, make sure the name on the e-ticket and the traveler's primary piece of identification are identical. The issuing of an e-ticket, and boarding later on, can be denied if the identification does not match what's on the ticket. In particular, watch out for misspelled names, which can lead to a lot of confusion.

  • Print out your itinerary, including the confirmation number, and bring it with you to the airport. Your itinerary can serve as evidence that you booked the flight, made a seat selection, and requested a special meal.

  • Some airlines offer separate check-in lines for e-ticketed passengers. But, to be issued your boarding pass, you'll need a photo ID, such as a driver's license or passport, and the credit card you used to charge the ticket.

  • Check in early to ensure that you get your seat assignment and that there are no problems with your ticket. Moreover, reconfirm each leg of your flight to make sure there are no changes.
  • How Do They Work?

    Sheila from Slippery Rock, PA, wonders how do e-tickets work? That's a good question. E-tickets remain one of the most misunderstood airline processes, yet they are really quite simple. An e-ticket confirms your airline ticket purchase without requiring a paper record. The only record of an e-ticket sale is in electronic format stored in the airline's computer system.

    The e-mail you receive after you purchase your e-ticket includes your confirmation number, which is also on record with the airline. When you check in for your flight, give the ticket agent your confirmation number, as well as your name and a government-issued photo ID. (For your protection, some airlines also require that you show the credit card you used to purchase your ticket.) That's all there is to it.

    How Long Are E-Tickets Good For?

    Jeff from State College, PA, wrote in wanting to know how long e-tickets are valid? Like paper tickets, e-tickets have time limits for making changes or refunds. Policies for changes and refunds, along with fees, vary widely by airline and seem to change often. In general, some airlines require that you use your ticket within one year from the date of purchase, while others require one year from the date you were originally scheduled to travel. Always check with your carrier on its policies before you purchase. Examples from the top 10 U.S. carriers:

    • Air Tran: One year from date of purchase.
    • Alaska: One year from date of travel.
    • American: One year from date of purchase.
    • America West: One year from date of purchase.
    • Continental: One year from date of purchase.
    • Delta: One year from date of purchase.
    • Northwest: One year from date of travel.
    • Southwest: One year from date of purchase.
    • United: Tickets issued before March 1, 2002, have no expiration. E-tickets issued after that date vary in expiration date. The less restricted the ticket, the longer the expiration date.
    • US Airways: One year from date of travel.
    International E-Tickets

    Karin from Fort Atkinson, WI, asks whether you can use e-tickets for international flights? Some airlines have started e-ticketing on a select number of international markets, but most international flights still require paper tickets.

    Customs agents require that you have proof of your scheduled return in your possession. So, if you travel internationally with an e-ticket, be sure to have a copy of your full itinerary with you.

    The Future of E-Tickets

    The use of e-tickets is rapidly evolving, especially with e-ticket interlining (airline to airline ticketing). Before, if you were traveling outbound on one airline and returning on another, you had to use a paper ticket. However, in the past year, airline alliances have started changing that policy, so you can use e-tickets when your flights involve travel on more than one airline. Airlines that offer interline e-ticketing include:

    Airline Interline e-tickets with:
    Air Canada United
    Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air American, Northwest
    Aloha Continental
    American Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, Continental, Northwest, United, US Airways
    America West Continental
    Continental Aloha, American, America West, Northwest, United, US Airways
    Delta Northwest, United
    Northwest Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, American, Continental, Delta, United
    United Air Canada , American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, US Airways
    US Airways American, Continental, United

    Customers will be able to use a single e-ticket when their itineraries include travel on these paired carriers. In the future, most airlines will offer this service, which will make last-minute changes between carriers easier.

    Also, coming soon to your personal computer are print-it-yourself tickets. With a new technology called EncrypTix, consumers will be able to purchase and print airline tickets themselves. This service will be made possible through encryption technology, initially developed for delivering pre-paid postage over the Internet and thoroughly tested by the U.S. Postal Service for more than two years.

    What Does Real Traveler Do?

    Lastly, Tom from Egypt, PA, asks, "What does Real Traveler prefer, paper or e-tickets?" I use both. I have used many e-tickets for domestic trips without problems, and I will continue to use them. However, I will not use e-tickets for multiple-airline travel (yet), for international travel, on airlines with labor problems, or for travel through particularly busy airline hubs at certain times of the year (for example, Chicago O'Hare in the winter).

    Why? Because even though advances in e-ticketing makes sense in terms of cost-cutting and convenience, holding an e-ticket when things go wrong can be a major inconvenience, especially since most airlines can't accept each other's e-tickets yet. Although some airlines do accept each other's e-tickets (as mentioned above), for the majority of airlines, paper tickets are still the standard negotiable document between airlines. That means those holding e-tickets must convert their ticket to a paper ticket before transferring between carriers.

    Eventually e-ticketing will be a seamless process among carriers. There's no doubt about it, e-tickets will be the way all of us travel in the future. And, I'm sure there will be a day when we look back and wonder how we ever got along without them.

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