It's a quick scan with a smartphone boarding pass

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2012, 12:00am


Helter-skelter dashes to the airport check-in desk will now be a thing of the past for many passengers, with nine airlines offering smartphone boarding passes in Hong Kong from this month.

The system 'uses less paper and will be more convenient for business travellers', said Rocky Kwok, the assistant general manager of terminal operations at Chek Lap Kok airport. Apart from that, it will be no different from issuing of paper boarding passes.

About half of all passengers departing from the airport can now choose to have their boarding passes sent to their smartphones by SMS or e-mail when they check in online.

If they have no checked baggage and are travelling on a direct flight to their ultimate destination, they will not have to visit a check-in counter.

Passengers will receive a form of barcode, known as a QR code, on their smartphone screens, which they will hold up to a scanner at the airport. The machine will flash a green light on approving the code.

US-based Continental Airlines piloted the programme in 2007 and the system became mainstream at US airports in 2010. There have been a few glitches. Passengers have in the past had to return to a ticketing desk for a paper ticket after faulty scanners were unable to recognise the QR code.

But Kwok said this was unlikely to cause much of a holdup at Chek Lap Kok airport. 'The person at immigration or the security post would just call the airline to check the details of the boarding pass and name.'

The procedure would be exactly the same as what would happen if the barcode on a paper boarding pass was to malfunction, he said.

The system promotes less dependency on paper and is especially suitable in a place like Hong Kong, which, according to research by Google and Ipsos, has a 35 per cent smartphone penetration. Sixty per cent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 47 per cent of 30- to 49-year-olds have smartphones in the city.

The participating airlines are Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, United Airlines, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Delta, Air France and Emirates.

Cathay recommends that passengers with luggage who opt for the mobile boarding pass should check in at least 45 minutes before departure. But passengers should beware if their phone is finicky or running low on battery power, an article in The New York Times warned in a review of the system in the United States. In such cases, it might pay to stick to paper passes.


The number of scanners installed at Chek Lap Kok airport to read smartphone boarding passes. It cost the airport HK$1.6 million