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Allowing passengers to display their flight ticket on their smartphone instead of having to carry a printout, was a good move. It's necessary to show it to get into the airport and to get the boarding pass. For trains and bus, it's necessary to show it to a ticket checker.

If the phone is lost or stops working, what valid options do we have to be allowed to travel? Can we:

  1. Show a piece of paper with the ticket number or reservation number written on it with a pen, and show our photo id card as proof?
  2. Store the PDF of the ticket on Google Drive, write the hyperlink on a piece of paper before the trip and in the emergency situation, request a co-passenger to type and open that hyperlink, to show the ticket checker?

I'm sure the authorities would have thought of some backup plan for such situations (and also thought of a way to ensure that it doesn't get misused, for example by someone who happens to know the ticket number).
Do you know anyone who has been through this situation? Is there any other valid option that is considered acceptable, or should we carry a printout just to be safe? I'm asking both for travel in India and when vacationing internationally.

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  • 29
    I usually have a print out of important tickets.
    – Willeke
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 18:10
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    Been there for a local flight in Qantas, the boarding pass website stopped working at the time of boarding because it said that I had previously already checked in and the boarding pass page I had opened previously had expired because the flight had a delay and the original boarding time had passed (who the heck designed this dumb thing?). The staff at the gate just ask for a photo ID and printed me out a new boarding pass. It probably wouldn't have been as easy for international flight.
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 5:29
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    For plane travel, just ask for a new ticket at the counter. They'll ask for ID.
    – user27701
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 14:41
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    @user27701: At the airport in my country, you can't get into the airport without the ticket. I do remember there's a counter outside, but I'll have to find out if they'd print a ticket for me. Looks like carrying a printout is the only option even in our modern world. At least paper can be recycled.
    – Nav
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 18:07
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    Practice in Germany, with local public transport: If your phone runs out of battery with your ticket on it, you will not pay a penalty fare but you will have to show up to the transport company office to prove you had the ticket, and you will still pay an administrative fee which can be like 15% of a penalty fare. Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 0:17

7 Answers 7

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As a rule, especially if talking about airlines, keep a printout at all times

North America

  • Amtrak

    If you received an eTicket, simply open it in the Amtrak mobile application, or print out another copy of the PDF document attached to your receipt email.

Europe

  • Eurail/Interrail (mobile pass) : You will need either your existing device fixed or another device

    What should I do if I lose or break my phone?

    In the unfortunate scenario that your device gets lost, damaged, or broken with your Pass on it, you can opt to move your Pass to another device.

    Open the app on your new device and go to My Pass to add your Pass using your last name and Pass number from the order confirmation email. When asked, tap 'Move Pass' and follow the steps to have your Pass moved to the new device.

  • Flixbus (and also Flixtrain (Germany)) : You will need access to your email address, as your booking confirmation email is your ticket

    This booking confirmation serves as your ticket. Please show it to the the bus driver digitally or in printed form.

    You can reissue it if you've lost the email

  • Ryanair : As always, they are very picky about those things, you need your boarding pass either digitally or printed. If you can't get either, for a fee of €/£20 per boarding pass, they can reprint your boarding pass

    • 2023-08-17: Couple 'horrified' at £110 Ryanair check-in fee - BBC News
      • ... told the BBC they had to pay airport check-in fees after mistakenly downloading their return tickets instead of their outgoing ones.
      • "I was then told that I had to go to the Ryanair desk to get a boarding card, and there they charged me £55 per person," she said. "[I was] horrified."

France

  • SNCF : You can always reissue a paper copy of the e-ticket at any point of sale or automatic machines (provided you either know the booking reference, SNCF account information or discount card number) in stations.

    If you can't do either, showing a piece of ID (theoretically, only name and birthdate is needed, but I've seen agents asking for an ID) to the agent will allow them to find your booking

    Si vous n'avez plus de batterie sur votre appareil, rapprochez-vous d'un agent : de façon exceptionnelle, avec votre nom, prénom et date de naissance, il pourra retrouver votre e-billet et générer votre QR code.

    If you don't have enough battery on your device, talk to an agent : in exceptionnal cases, with your first, last name and date of birth, they will find your e-ticket and generate your QR code

    This will work on all classes of service (TGV, INTERCITES, TER...) but not on local services in the Île-de-France region

  • IDF-Mobilités (Transillien, RATP...) : Since tickets are to be validated with the NFC capability of the device, having no battery will not allow you to validate

    Having something like a broken screen or an otherwise working but disabled device may allow you to validate but since you need to be able to show the screen for some tickets (Navigo Semaine, Mois), it may not work as well

Italy

  • Trenitalia: You only need your PNR code (either standalone or on your E-ticket) or payment receipt, the QR-code isn't even required.

    If you don't have either :

    If you have lost or forgotten your payment receipt or the PNR code, you will be considered as being without a ticket and thus have to pay for one ticket plus the applicable fine.

Switzerland

For transportation companies in the SwissPass Alliance (including almost all public transport companies in Switzerland), the general rule is set by Tarif 600. Section 12.2.4.6 provides that when an electronic ticket bought before the departure of the service cannot be shown or controlled for various reason, a processing fee of 30 francs (set in section 12.7.4) may be charged. You must provide your identity to the ticket inspector.

For most SBB and local transport services, the ticket may be printed out with the barcode.

Users of automatic ticketing applications that bills after the trip (e.g. EasyRide, FAIRTIQ) are responsible to ensure the functioning of their device.

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    Wow, Ryanair charges you for a printed boarding pass? That's wild. Any airline I've ever been on in the states, even cheap ones, will just print a boarding pass for you at the gate if you've lost it.
    – Brad
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 4:22
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    @Brad If they could legally, RyanAir would charge you extra for the privilege of being able to breathe oxygen on the flight – per litre, no doubt. Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 9:58
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I would expect to pay 50 cents, not 5$. Let alone 20$, that's a highway robbery.
    – Demonblack
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 14:44
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    The Ryanair fee was actually a late check in fee rather than just for printing the boarding pass.
    – smartse
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 18:33
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    this basically say that we've invented e-ticket so that you can have the convenience of still having to print your ticket?
    – njzk2
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 10:04
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You say that "the authorities would have thought of some backup plan", that would not be my expectation. Several authorities apparently like to be in trouble when the technology gives problems. I know that I've read that if you use a ticket on a mobile device on Danish buses/trains, it runs out of power and you're then subjected to a cheeck, you will be given the usual "control fee" (they insist it's not a fine), but if you then send in a screenshot you won't have a actually pay that (for people living in Denmark you usually get a piece of paper with an amount, some information on how to pay and a deadline for paying - I have no idea how it works for tourists). So the "backup plan" in that case is to go ahead (and "refund" later).

For flights, my experience is that self-service kiosks will print a boarding pass even if you present them with a boarding on your phone. So if you checked in using that and is afraid it will stop working while you're at the airport (e.g. because it has a low battery status), you can just do that.

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  • I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand what you are trying to convey.
    – Nav
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 18:10
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    The primary point I'm trying to convey is that your trust in authorities are misplaced here. They have an unbelievable ability to believe that technology won't fail. Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 23:54
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    Just for example, here’s the “backup plan” for a phone failure from Crosscountry Trains in the UK: “Therefore, you will have to purchase a new ticket for the journey you wish to make.” crosscountrytrains.co.uk:8082/customer-service/…
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 5:12
  • "Several authorities apparently like to be in trouble when the technology gives problems." - can you name a single example when this would mean any trouble for the authorities? My impression is that moving to digital tickets is mostly a move by transportation companies (authorities as such (of the jurisdiction) are rarely involved on the level of detail as to what artifacts exactly are regarded as valid tickets) to minimize their expenses (no ticket print-outs, no paper/ink refill maintenance on vending machines, no mailing fees) and offload the risk/technical maintenance to customers. Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 6:10
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Here is the "no need for paper" answer.

  1. Everything that is printable on paper can (and should be saved) as an electronic copy. That's how it starts anyway.
  2. Collect all of these into a single folder for the trip, put it on Google Drive (or equivalent). Share it to all your devices and MAKE IT AVAILABLE OFFLINE
  3. Make sure you bring at least 2 devices. I typically have three (phone, tablet, laptop) and if I'm not going solo my partner has one or two devices as well.

We often do complicated trips and bringing printouts for all the different hotels, Airbnb, car, train, flights, events, etc. would make for a really awkward stack of paper.

We have travelled without paper for a long time now and have never run into an issue where paper would have made a difference. There ARE tickets that require a live app, but if that doesn't work a printout doesn't help either.

This being said, I like physical boarding passes as mementos but they can easily be printed at the airport.

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    This is a sensible option, but if I had the luxury of carrying more than one device on a solo trip, I wouldn't have asked this question.
    – Nav
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 18:05
  • @Nav: You can probably get an old phone or tablet pretty cheap, if you don't already have one lying around. As long as the screen works and it connects to WiFi, it can serve as a backup device. Whether that's any cheaper or easier than printing out a stack of paper is another matter, of course. But bringing a backup phone does have other advantages too: you can't call home or check your email with a stack of paper. Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 13:12
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    Of course, there's also the small potential something happens to all your devices collectively (taxi drives off, someone steals your bag, etc) I only bring it up because I felt as confident having multiple devices too with stored tickets, and then have had a way of finding complications!!! Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 4:17
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International Airlines

You don't need your ticket. Your spot on the flight is assigned to your personal identification document you've booked with.

It's in the system. Modern regulations enforce this. It's been this way for a while. Most of the time I don't even get asked for a ticket, just the ID.

Airlines with an airport check-in fee are the exception, not the rule. The main one is Ryanair, they even got sued for this. But they're just 1.5% of world travel, despite commanding a much larger share of press coverage. That's entirely on purpose - O'Leary likes to stir up rage about just how outrageous he is.

Local travel

Things vary. Less digitally-developed countries will sometimes require a ticket. Others just need the ID.

Non-personal tickets

For obvious reasons, cannot be restored. There's usually a means to pay on the spot.

During a network problem

Tickets are still used as a backup when something goes wrong. So it's worth having them on a mobile device or printed out, unless you're very confident in the company you've booked with.

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On iOS 12 and later, there’s a power reserve that will keep some payment functions and things like tickets and boarding passes stored in the Wallet working for several hours after your iPhone is otherwise out of battery, provided you’ve set the relevant card, pass or ticket to Express Mode.

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    No point of having a power reserve if the phone is stolen or damaged.
    – Nav
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 18:04
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In Sweden, with the Stockholm Local Traffic authority known as SL and without a local ID number your ticket is lost, there is no backup. Locals can use their ID number and authentication app to have a backup, but again only in a digital form. I have heard of people losing a yearly ticket worth 1000$ due to an IT glitch without having any way to get it back.

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You know those ticketing lines you always bypass? If you lost your phone, those lines are for you. Get to the desk and explain your situation and ask for paper tickets.

If you are on an Amtrak long-haul train at a limited-services station with no proper terminals, then tell the conductor with a straight face what happened, and they will check their manifest. If you're on there, you should be fine. If you booked at the very last minute, they probably will let you ride in coach until they can get to a station with ticketing facilities or reach an agent by radiotelephone or messaging to confirm your details. (I am not entirely certain of the state of the art of Amtrak's IT infrastructure).

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  • I've seen Amtrak conductors even on the Northeast Corridor out of major stations look up passengers by name when their phones are malfunctioning. So, probably, in a pinch, this is fine. But Amtrak's customer-facing policies say this isn't available, so it would be unwise to rely on it. Good news is the trains have power outlets in a pinch.
    – mlc
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 12:49
  • @mlc that's true, I remember in the 90s always sussing out the 2 outlets per car (used by the cleaners). Now they put Legrand Plugmold down both sides of the car and every seat gets at least one. So yeah, conductor will just tell you to plug in at your seat. Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 14:57

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