Having been on a short international trip this past week, I was very excited to write about travelling paperless.
Going back to my younger years, all air travel was managed using paper. We would purchase airline tickets printed on multi-copy packets, like a little booklet. Largely hand-written.
We would arrive at the terminal and stand in line endlessly, waiting to check in our baggage and receive our boarding pass. Sometimes hand-written or sometimes printed by a computer.
I always tried to get seats in the non-smoking section of the aircraft. Strange times those were.
Travel was rife with paper, all of it as valuable as cash.
With the advent of computerized flight management systems and the internet, there was the promise that flying was going to become less paper intensive.
We were able to purchase airline tickets online rather than calling an airline or using a travel agent.
However when we got to the airport, we still had to stand in line endlessly, waiting to check in our baggage and receive our boarding pass and baggage claim tickets. Only now our boarding passes were barcoded.
Still not paperless.
Then everyone started carrying smartphones and things changed.
We were suddenly able to check in online. We were able to have our boarding passes beamed to our smartphones. There was no more waiting in line for a boarding pass and as a paperless guru, this has been awesome.
Now as long as I have some battery left on my smartphone, I can breeze through to my waiting aircraft without a single tree being harmed. No paper. All digital.
Unless you are traveling to the U.S. from Canada. Which is what happened to me this past week.
Suddenly things get very paper-y.
While the internet was advertising that we would be able to use digital boarding passes, I didn’t have such luck traveling through U.S. Customs.
Everywhere we went, we were required to scan a paper copy of our boarding pass. We had to scan it when we arrived to check our bags. We had to scan it when we went into security. We had to scan it when we arrived at U.S. Customs. We had to scan it to get on the airplane.
And all eight million of us traveling through the airport that day had paper copies of our boarding passes.
I am not sure why, and nobody has been able to explain why – trust me I asked.
There is a big sign on the wall of U.S. Customs threatening a lifetime of hard labour if I bring my smartphone out. Smartphones are absolutely 100% prohibited in that area, and even leading up to it. That is my best guess as to why we needed to carry paper boarding passes, because they won’t let you take out your phone. Again though, not sure why.
It is disappointing. Not the end of the world, but still disappointing.
As I got on the plane I pulled out my e-reader and thought to myself about what I needed to get to this point, finally sitting on the airplane.
When flying domestic, I usually have my phone with my boarding pass, my e-reader, and my driver’s license – the critical elements to flying. For this trip I also had to bring my passport.
Out of curiosity, I pulled out my phone and searched to see if passports would be going on a paperless journey anytime soon. Found a story by Dan Damon on the BBC World Service that said, yes, the world’s biggest passport manufacturer is developing this technology. Of course there are security concerns, and the loss of collecting those stamps to look back on. However, paperless travel for your passport is well underway and will be here sometime in the future.
For now, though, travelling paperless is just not all here on the international front. It is more challenging and comes with more lines to collect paper. Lines to scan that paper boarding pass and multiple areas where that paper is basically your lifeline to get yourself on the plane.
And here I thought I was going to be a paperless boss. The envy of my fellow travelers, like George Clooney in Up in the Air, zipping through security with my tech devices, no paper to be seen. The dream lives on.