I fly at least four times a month these days, often more. While I always check in to my flights online the day before and have the app installed on my phone, I also always stop by the kiosk when I get to the airport to print a paper boarding pass.
For me, having a paper boarding pass is just easier. Yes, my boarding pass is in my airline app, but while I’m waiting in line to flash that pass I’m going to want to check email on my phone, or text a friend, or scroll Instagram. Really, I’m going to want to do anything but keep that pass up on my phone, which means somehow, someway, it’s going to be impossibly hard to pull up when it’s my turn. Or even better, I’ll use my phone too much on the flight and not have a pass when it’s time to board my connection.
We’ve got lots of hacks for this, the best IMO being taking a screenshot of your pass, although that certainly doesn’t help if your phone craps out in the moment you need it most.
With paper, you can leave your phone at the airport bar and still get on your flight. Just print one and avoid any chance of being that guy (or one of the dozen guys) fumbling with your phone like an idiot while an aeroplane of people are lined up behind you.
I double down on this advice when you’re travelling with a big family. Somehow I always end up behind the family of 8 where Dad is trying (and failing) to find everyone’s mobile ticket. You know what’s not hard to find? The neat stack of eight paper tickets you have in your hand. Sure, have mobile passes as a backup, but use them as a backup for the paper, not the other way around.
This week Insider posted a story on why you should always print your boarding pass at the airport, which validated my move for me and offered some more great reasons for getting that paper ticket.
The writer’s biggest argument for having that printed pass is that it helps you avoid technical difficulties. Those can be something like your phone losing its data connection or deciding to spontaneously restart when it’s your turn to board, but can also be things like the scanners going down at the airport, and some airports don’t have those scanners to begin with. If you happen to have a connection at an airport that doesn’t support mobile passes then you’ll have to print one out when you get there, which is likely 9000x more annoying than just getting it before your first flight.
I have been in a “scanners down” situation before, arguably only once in probably 1,000 flights, which resulted in a “paper tickets to the front” policy.
Insider’s writer claims that having a paper pass helped them not pay for a seat assignment and get an upgrade. I’m personally not buying either of those claims, at least in terms of the paper tickets offering an advantage in either situation.
Seat assignments, in particular, are something I watch like a hawk in the airline’s mobile app. I always want to sit in an aisle seat, ideally with an empty middle seat beside me, and I will change my seat assignment 100 times in the app while I’m sitting at the gate to try and hold on to that experience.
A paper ticket doesn’t help you there. Also, the writer doesn’t explain how a paper ticket got them any kind of upgrade, but I can’t imagine how that worked given how automated and based on status upgrades are these days. It certainly makes things easier when talking to a gate agent, since you can pass them a piece of paper with all your info on it, but I don’t see that getting you anywhere you wouldn’t have eventually gotten with the mobile ticket as well.
That said, paper tickets are reliable, provided you put them somewhere accessible and can save you (and the people behind you) the hassle of pulling up that mobile ticket, or that screenshot of your mobile ticket, at the gate.