As of 31 May 2008, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 230 airlines worldwide, and 93% of scheduled international air traffic, no longer issues paper tickets. The primary motivation behind scrapping paper tickets was to cut costs and increase efficiency. Although not every airline worldwide is subject to IATA’s rules, the vast majority are, and paper tickets are now virtually obsolete.
The airline industry estimates that it will reduce costs by three billion U.S. dollars worldwide by eliminating paper tickets. This is because the paper to print the tickets had to physically delivered, and equipment used for printing had to be maintained. The cost of issuing a ticket will decrease from ten U.S. dollars to one, and 50,000 trees will be saved, according to the industry.
There is a common belief that airlines in developing countries are the last to move to electronic tickets, but this is not always the case. Some small regional airlines, such as Aerocondor in Peru and Kingfisher Air in India went paperless before industry behemoths such as Virgin Atlantic which issues tickets to multiple international destinations across carriers.
The elimination of paper tickets will make things more difficult for airlines that serve remote locations where there are no computers or electricity. In these cases, the airline will have to print out passenger lists at its headquarters and carry them to remote airports, and rely on radio and phone connections to verify changes to the lists.
Just because the IATA no longer issues paper tickets does not mean that people are not using them. Under the IATA’s rules, paper ticket holders have up to one year from the date of issue to use their ticket, and an additional year to make a return trip. This means that some paper tickets will be valid until 31 May 2010.
It is important to remember that an airline ticket is not the same thing as a boarding pass. Possession of an airline ticket, either electronic or paper, is what allows the airline to issue a boarding pass, which is a paper document. The boarding pass is then used to proceed through security, pay any immigration or airport duties or fees and secure a seat on the plane.