12

Inspired by this question - What types of boarding pass barcodes are accepted at Stockholm Arlanda Airport?

Is it allowed by airports and airlines to use anything but the official .pdf they provide or the official mobile app of the airline? For some reason I feel like there would at least be a few raised eyebrows if something not so official was shown at the gate but would still have a barcode/QR code that their scanning device would recognise. There were a number of times I gave my phone to the agent at the gate, and a number of times the agent didn't just scan the barcode but also looked at the information on the phone with their eyes too (a few people below gave even more examples in the comments too).

So this is two-fold, considering both going through security (which is probably the easiest as nobody there takes your phone or looks at it) and going through the gate to board the plane (where it can be taken to scan and/or looked at with eyes). And any other extra checks that sometimes may happen as well.

  • Clarified my question slightly to mention that this covers the end-to-end journey from entering the airport (going though the security) to boarding the plane (going through the gate). – kiradotee Jan 20 at 11:35
  • "nobody there takes your phone or looks at it" depends on the airport – fqq Jan 20 at 16:58
9

I think your question is flawed because what is important is the content of the barcode itself rather than how that barcode is rendered on your device. In fact, the TSA (in the US) or person at the gate never sees the application when I place my phone face down on the scanner - all they see is if the barcode contains data that correlates with their internal systems and hence enables you to pass through that particular checkpoint.

In my case the barcode is rendered via Apple's Wallet application, so it is neither the airlines original PDF of the barcode nor the airlines application.

I'm not sure that this is done in the barcode age, but there used to be a website that allowed you to generate fake paper boarding passes that would get you past the TSA checkpoints. Of course, I don't expect that they would get you on a plane, but I think that the idea was to avoid being tracked by the TSA or some such.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Yeah entering the security area of the airport seems fairly easy as nobody actually sees what you're doing. But whenever I reach the gate it's not unusual for me to give my phone for them to scan the mobile boarding pass and sometimes they also look at it themselves too. – kiradotee Jan 20 at 2:07
  • 8
    @PeterM it's standard on some airports - the scanner isn't accessible by passengers. – Mikael Dúi Bolinder Jan 20 at 7:14
  • 6
    @PeterM and sometimes security will want to look at the boarding pass, as a double check for the scanner. Had that happen at several airports. – jwenting Jan 20 at 7:33
  • 4
    @PeterM Been in countless situations where they visually viewed my ticket. From cases like gate specific security where someone quickly checks you're lining up correctly, to the gate stuff feeling more confident in putting the phone correctly on the scanner (very often a valid concern) or on the plane the staff quickly checking your ticket one last time to tell you where your seat is and make one last time sure you're on the right plane. – David Mulder Jan 20 at 11:58
  • 1
    @PeterM I concur with the above comment that it depends on the airport. In the airports I travel through, it is extremely common that you give your boarding pass (whether paper based or phone based) to the agent at the gate who scans it. As the scanner sits on the agents desk, you would have a hard time trying to do it yourself. Furthermore, I have also had agents (e.g. in the queue to the gate) visually inspecting my phone boarding pass as way of checking that people are queuing in the right place. – JBentley Jan 20 at 13:06
8

The general rule is that if the airport allows for e-Tickets or mobile boarding passes it's fine. If not, and only paper boarding passes are, scanning the barcode and using your phone can cause some trouble.

If the airport and airline are using BCBP (Bar Coded Boarding Pass) then you can modify the boarding pass as much as you want, if you keep the barcode data intact. You can switch from a paper boarding pass with a PDF417 barcode to a phone app with a Data Matrix if you want.

If the airport only uses paper boarding passes then you most likely can't modify the boarding pass at all and you have to use the boarding pass made for you.

If you're unsure if the paper copy is needed - keep it¨(especially if flying with a low cost carrier like Wizz Air). Also, if you're able to have your boarding pass in your phone, don't worry about battery level - once past security you should be able to board the plane using just your passport, or in some cases your ID/drivers license.


This is from my experience and there could be exceptions.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    "once past security you should be able to board the plane using just your passport" I've always been asked for the boarding pass. Will they look-up your details using the passport identifier or something? Are they obligated to do this? – Michael Jan 20 at 10:36
  • 3
    @Michael I've manage to loose my boarding pass a couple of times airside and I've had no issues boarding using just my passport/ID. Yes, they'll just take a look at the passenger list and might even print you a new one or write you a note with your seat number 😊 If you're on a domestic flight they'll probably just have your name and birth date. – Mikael Dúi Bolinder Jan 20 at 10:38
  • 1
    +1 for keep the paper. I had the scanner fail with the phone so often that I quit trying. – WGroleau Jan 20 at 16:41
  • 1
    I notice that most airline barcodes are Aztec, not Data Matrix – Nayuki Jan 20 at 19:12
5

The significance of the barcode lies in the encoded data. If you create a copy of the barcode, it will encode the same data, so it should be acceptable. If you create your own barcode, you will not know what data to encode in it, so it will not be acceptable.

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    Many boarding passes contain very limited and standardised data (basically the same thing you would see printed on a paper boarding pass). It should be trivial to produce the barcode from an existing boarding pass (the easiest is of course to scan the barcode that sits there!). Some boarding passes may contain signatures and the like (they exist for train tickets, not sure of they exist for airlines), unless you scan an existing one it would impossible to generate. – jcaron Jan 20 at 8:44
  • 3
    This answer assumes that the data in the barcode is the only thing that matters. I have on many occasions had airport staff visually inspect the boarding pass (i.e. the written parts of it). If you think that this wouldn't matter (e.g. such staff would work with your custom boarding pass anyway) then the answer should be expanded to cover that situation. Otherwise it risks being wrong. – JBentley Jan 20 at 13:09
  • @jcaron signatures shouldn't be used by airlines unless required by the government so most don't have them. – Mikael Dúi Bolinder Jan 20 at 13:21
  • 6
    @jcaron: I wrote the AZTEC barcode encoding for Amadeus ~10 years ago, and there was no signature of any code; it was purely content in, barcode out. There is little point in signing because the security is at the gate: (1) Gate agents cross-check identity vs boarding pass and (2) Gate software ensures that each passenger only boards once. Remember that you can print a boarding pass multiple times -- there's no point in preventing duplication. – Matthieu M. Jan 20 at 15:41
  • @MatthieuM. There's now a mandatory signature for TSA PreCheck. – Mikael Dúi Bolinder Jan 20 at 17:46
3

As a general rule, for any company, I would say no! You can't just bring the barcode in any situation. There are several companies that explicitly don't allow this.

Although in theory fine - as others have mentioned - the content in the barcode is the relevant data, you shouldn't use another app unless you're absolutely sure the company accepts it. A notable case is Ryanair. They will only accept your e-ticket if in their own app. This can happen for several reasons:

Commercial reasons Making sure you use their app gives them the chance to cross-sell or upsell stuff to you. Having their app installed is always an advantage to any company

Operational reasons Although the content of your ticket is in the barcode having the ticket with the relevant information printed can still be important. In the case of system failure, they can still look at your data. In some situations, it's faster (and cheaper) to do a visual inspection in an e-ticket rather than reading the bar-code.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    "A notable case is Ryanair. They will only accept your e-ticket if in their own app." I've heard about this before and wasn't sure if that was still the case. But this is the first answer the properly addresses my question, thank you. – kiradotee Jan 21 at 15:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.