New Technology That Doesn’t Serve The Passenger?


Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes. (Rule 8 of The Toyota Way)

Being the geek that I am, I took advantage of the chance to try the new American Airlines mobile flight check-in process. I can't say I would jump to try it again. I can't say that the mobile option made my experience at O'Hare any easier

Let's compare the process options:

  1. Print paper boarding pass at home/work
  2. Print paper boarding pass at airport kiosk
  3. Use mobile boarding pass on BlackBerry
  4. Stand in line at airport to talk to crabby agent.

OK, Option 4 is ruled out. That was easy.

Initial Check In and Obtaining Boarding Pass:

Log into American website on PC (same for 1, 2, 3). Moderate hassle factor (why does the website NEVER remember who I am, even though I always click the “Remember Me” button?)

Get boarding pass. Option 1 — print at home or office, assuming you're not out of paper or ink, the hassle/time/cost factor is very low. If you don't have a printer, or there is a glitch in Option 1, you can always use Option 2. I can't remember ever waiting more than a few seconds for a kiosk at any airport lately. Compared to old process of waiting in a long queue to see an agent, Option 2 isn't very bad either (and if you're willing to take 2 minutes, you save money on paper and ink). Option 3, you get an email sent to you with a mobile webpage link (as appears at left).

Failure Mode A: BlackBerry glitch. As my BlackBerry tends to do at times, without warning, I lose some or all of my exchange/Outlook server messages (from the device, not from my mailbox). This happened, so I have no boarding pass access anymore on my device. Log into computer and forward boarding pass link to my gmail account (which also goes to my BlackBerry and tends to not get “lost” from the device). Hassle factor – medium (extra time).

Hindsight #1: Should have just printed a paper boarding pass (would have been easier at that point).

Hindsight #2: Should have just waited for the airport and Option 2, but I'm stubborn and want to try Option 3 (thereby violating Toyota Rule #11 myself). Shame on me.

Failure Mode B: I guess you could lose a paper boarding pass generated through Option 1, so you default to Option 2. I haven't lost a paper boarding pass in recent memory…

At the airport:

At the security line: Option 1 or Option 2, pull paper boarding pass out of bag/pocket, present to agent. Can continue using BlackBerry while in line. With Option 3, I'm not sure how long the webpage will take to come up to display my boarding pass, so I “overproduce” and bring up the web page early as to not irritate the TSA or my fellow travelers.

At the TSA agent: I say, “OK, I'm trying the mobile boarding pass.” Cue TSA agent to supervisor, “Hey, I haven't gotten one of these yet.” Here comes the training session from supervisor, thereby irritating fellow passengers in line behind me. Advantage, Options 1 or 2.

At the security screening: Option 1 or 2 — hold onto boarding pass and walk through security. With Option 3, I hit a conundrum…. TSA Prime Directive #934B says electronic devices must go on the conveyor belt, but TSA Prime Directive #342D says you must carry your boarding pass through the metal detector. Had anyone thought this through? TSA Agent says to put the BlackBerry through security (with tone of voice that says, “Get out of the ‘expert traveler' line, you numnutz”. I guess you don't have to show your boarding pass if you bluff “I'm using the mobile check in, what do I do?” (of course they assume the boarding pass has already been checked, which begs the question of why they normally double-check paper boarding passes. I thereby violate TSA Prime Directive #2, which states “don't think too hard about gaps in TSA Prime Directives.”

Advantage, paper (Options 1 or 2).

At the gate… they call for boarding (all 93% of us who are Platinum or Executive Platinum, thereby circumventing their “efficient” boarding process of boarding us first). With Options 1 or 2, pull paper out of pocket. With Option 3, go into email, pull up webpage mobile boarding pass (again overproducing, as to avoid delay.

Failure Mode C: Crap, my BlackBerry battery is running low. I hope I have enough battery.

But then I hit Failure Mode D: Lack of good AT&T wireless coverage in the airport. Get “Not available” error from mobile website (oh wait, this must be an error if the BlackBerry connected to something). Ack, I have no boarding pass.

Go to gate agent and ask for paper boarding pass, running risk of losing place in line in the crush of early “I want to stow my rollaboard” “elite” passengers (God, I hate that term). Get back in line (thanks for letting me cut back in, consultant lady).

Advantage, paper.

In hindsight, what was I thinking? Unless I'm missing something, I don't really see the AAdvantage (sorry for the pun) of the mobile boarding pass system. I feel cool? I'd feel cooler with my boarding pass showing on an iPhone?

There was really no time savings, even if the process worked as designed. Cost savings on toner and paper, a few cents. Extra electricity required to further recharge BlackBerry — a few cents.

“Greenest” option? Maybe it's Option 3, but my electricity to recharge the device might be generated by burning coal.

I think I'll go back to the tree-killing boarding pass option. Who knew “print your own internet boarding pass” would seem “old school”???

Turns out the TSA thinks this mobile boarding pass is more secure, per the Chicago Tribune article I linked to earlier:

The new system provides an added level of security over paper boarding passes, said American spokesman Billy Sanez. Paper boarding passes are scanned only at the gate, before passengers enter an airplane.

But mobile passes are scanned twice: at the gate and at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. They also employ encryption technology to guard against forgeries.

“This is something that has been tested with TSA, approved by TSA,” Sanez said.


What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous article"Like Lean"? Drive Through Flu Shots
Next articleEliminating Waste through Direct Communication
Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Finnair offers SMS-check-in addition to internet check-in. Haven’t tried it yet though.

    But they send sms and check-in is done simply by replying to it. After that system sends confirmation as MMS which includes barcode.

  2. Hi Mark,

    This actually made me laugh out loud. As usual, lean thinking lets us see the devil in the details.

    Failure modes C & D are the most likely as any tech issues will be eventually ironed out.

    I bet that the best future option will be passport enabled check-in and boarding via barcode technology. We are moving into an era where we all will need official federal identification and the passport is the current secure option for that.

    Most people think international travel when you show them a passport – but there is no good reason to not use a passport for domestic travel authorization as well. So, when you book a flight, the boarding information is tied to your passport #. Go to the airport, don't forget your passport – and walk directly to scanners at the the security gate. The only problem with this of course is passport identification theft as airlines would need access to government records. We all see how well the government is managing affairs now, so perhaps my idea is just a pipe dream.

  3. I don’t know if the airline systems could figure it all out.

    Last Sunday, I was at DTW, trying to fly back to DFW. The American system was trying to check me in for my Monday flight from DFW to ORD.

    The system *should* have known at Sunday 6 AM I was trying to check in for the Sunday 7 AM flight.

    Lousy systems. Hassle for the passenger.

  4. Mobile boarding passes work WAY better now in 2011 with my iPhone and the American Airlines app. The boarding pass is available regardless of network connectivity.

    Although, there’s still a risk of your battery running low.

    Also, it’s much harder to hold a cup of coffee AND your iPhone in the same hand. A simple paper boarding pass slips between two fingers… advantage paper.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.