NWA’s NEW E-Boarding Pass

My boarding pass, slightly altered to protect the innocent


My boarding pass, slightly altered to protect the innocent



On a recent business trip I decided to give Northwest Airlines’ NEW E-Boarding Pass a shot. The way this works is that if you fly out of one of the currently supported airports (like DTW), you can check in for your flight using your “approved” smartphone/cellphone and actually use your smartphone/cellphone to go through security and board the plane. No paper boarding pass required. 

I had originally planned to get to the airport in plenty of time in case this didn’t work out. However, due to weather and traffic, I got to the airport 10 minutes later than I originally would have. So it had to work! I had no time for error. 


Here’s how it works…

You can check in for your flight up to 24 hours before departure. If you use your cellphone, you can not only check in, but you can request that your boarding pass actually be sent directly to your phone. The E-Boarding Pass is sent to either an e-mail address or mobile phone number in the form of an e-mail, WAP push/link or MMS message. When you arrive to the airport, you show the screen with the 2D barcode on it and they actually have a barcode scanner right there at the TSA station.


One step forward, one step backwards

Now the interesting thing was, I was wondering how they would handle the requirement for showing your boarding pass to the agent standing on the other side of the X-Ray machine. In the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, they require that you show your boarding pass twice before going to your gate. You show it before going through the X-Ray machine to the TSA agent (who typically puts a physical pen mark/initials on your paper boarding pass) and again once you’re on the other side to another agent. The problem is you can’t walk through the X-Ray machine with your phone in hand! When I asked the first agent about this, he said he would, get this, walk over to the other guy and let him know that I was coming through and that I had shown him my phone. I thought, “oooooookkkkkkkkkk.”

After I got through the X-Ray machine (luckily no bag check this time), I told the guy that I didn’t have my boarding pass because it was electronic and on my phone. He said, “I still need to see it!” I said, well we’ll have to wait until my stuff comes through the X-Ray. So he holds up the other people in line until my stuff came through on the belt! I was stunned and thought, this is soooo inefficient. Clearly they haven’t thought this through yet. At a minimum the second guy (if we really need this guy in the first place), should either be double-checking boarding passes before you go through the X-Ray OR at the very end of the conveyor belt. 


I boarded the plane

When I got to my gate, the plane was already boarding. I walked right up and showed my iPhone to the agent. She told me where to hold it so that it could be scanned and I went right onboard. Cool!


The Bottom Line

I love seeing advances in technology like this, but clearly this one needs a little more work. There are also some potential issues. What if your battery dies? Since the iPhone doesn’t yet do MMS, you get a link via SMS to view your boarding pass in Safari. What if your web connection doesn’t work at that given moment as in some cases the iPhone’s Safari needs to be able to connect to the internet to be able to refresh a page. Do we really need boarding passes at all? Couldn’t your ID/Passport be your boarding pass (children/minors would still need them). I’m excited about the possibilities, but right now there are some things that need to be worked out. NWA’s E-Boarding Pass is currently offered on non-stop flights from Indianapolis, IN and Detroit, MI during check-in on nwa.com. If you are departing from IND or DTW you must be checking in as a single passenger on a Northwest operated non-stop flight within the United States.

7 Replies to “NWA’s NEW E-Boarding Pass”

  1. Hi Terry. Spunded a bit strange with the second guy (why on earth would one need that second guy??). In Europe (at least within Scandinavia on SAS) we use our frequent flyer card to board and to go through security. If you only carry han luggage there is now need to check in, you can go straight to the gate. At the gate there is a self service card reader that gives you your seat assignment. Cool.

  2. Hey Terry, I have seen in Japan they use their phone for everything! Mass transit of all sorts, including trains and planes. They also have some sort of credit, currency or vouchers or something, where they would normally carry a card or cash.

    I remember back in the day when they did a story on cell phones in Japan and where “almost everyone had one!” It seems kinda funny now. I guess in due time we’ll figure something out too.

  3. Hi Terry,
    I tried this as well with my iPhone, but the sensor didn’t pick it up right away. So the agent sat there rubbing my phone on the sensor a few tries, which made me very nervous, as it was alomst dropped a few times, till I finally pulled out “Plan B”, which was a printed version of my boarding pass.

    All in all, I wanted to try it, but in the end, it attempted to simplify something that wasn’t very difficult in the first place. It is much easier to flash a piece of paper that I can stuff into my pocket than to precariously rub my phone all over a sensor. 🙂
    Thanks for your blog. I love it!

  4. Terry,

    You should have a look at ACTPrinter for iPhone. It’s the latest application by Houdah Software (HoudahGeo & HoudahSpot)

    ACTPrinter has been created for this very purpose. Yet it has many more uses.

    Pierre Bernard

  5. Tried this on two different flights out of MSP last week.

    The first time, I was so excited about the e-boarding pass working that I forgot to take my laptop out of my bag before sending it through! TSA was gracious to me this day, noting that I was overcome with geekiness over the e-boarding pass.

    The second time, after I scanned my phone at the gate, I began walking away when the agent stopped me and asked for my ID. Seriously? “It’s a new procedure and we’re getting used to it,” she said. So how is the barcode on my phone different than the barcode on a paper boarding pass? Besides, NWA’s website doesn’t indicate you need to show your ID at the gate. Some people’s kids, I tell ya…

    Overall, very cool. BTW, at MSP they no longer ask to see your boarding pass after you pass through the metal detector. I’ve noticed that a few airports have never (at least when I’ve traveled) asked for the boarding pass after the scanner, like MDW.

  6. I used the NW eboarding pass in Detroit and Memphis.
    In Detroit I had to show the e boarding pass to the ticket agent when I checked my bag. She didn’t even flinch. I then proceeded to security. Here I had to show the boarding pass and photo id. Passed through the metal detector without having to show the pass. Scanned the pass at the gate and boarded without a ever looking back.
    In Memphis I didn’t check a bag so went straight to security. The TSA agent scanned the pass, checked my id (driver’s license) and then gave me a slip of paper to hand the agent on the other side of the metal detector. Scanned the pass at the gate; no problems.
    Works as advertised so far.

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