2D barcode boarding pass globally implemented

Some 10 years ago, when working at Symbol Technologies (now a division of Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions), I was involved in projects with a few airlines from Malev Hungarian to SAS in the Nordics. Main aims: speed up check in and go paperless.

As a person doing some 150 flights per year, sometimes I did 7 in a week (crazy days!), IBM did a consultancy gig on our sales force and worked out about 40% of our time was spent travelling, so time saving at check in with a simple barcode boarding pass made for 300 people could help out.

Let's start with how check in used to work and what replaced it:

Previously, the airlines used the magnetic stripe like on a credit card. Acronym being MSR, which is magnetic stripe reader, this is the machine that reads the old boarding passes. That is the equivalent of when the retail checkout assistant swipes your card. So the magnetic stripe was the first revolution, then one of my business idols Herb Kelleher pioneered paperless check in at Southwest Airlines. And now there is the barcode boarding pass. But what is a 2D barcode and why is it useful?

This one dimensional (1D) barcode has lines in one direction like you see on normal retail products you buy. This needs any old barcode scanner to read it. Rumour has it that this 1D barcode was founded by a guy sitting on his deckchair on a beach and running his hands in the sand!

Then there is the 2D (two dimensional) barcode boarding pass which looks like a fuzzy mess when lines will be going in both directions. An example of a 2D barcode boarding pass is shown in this article image. You can hold a great deal of information in this barcode such as a photo and address. The correct barcode scanner, an imager, like the Motorola DS6707, can read this 2D (but not 1D) barcode on the screen of your computer or iPhone, so no need to even print your barcode boarding pass, just remember your smart phone.

And how many boarding passes are issued each year? 2 billion, so saving paper and time will be a welcome relief for the regulars.

The next step I see is surely any ticket will be embedded in a 2D barcode that people will either print or more and more just have on the screen of their smart phone. Same goes for coupons.

Author: Jonathan Bellwood