Paper airline tickets about to get even more rare

E-tickets let airlines make faster changes to passenger itineraries, simplify administrative procedures and reduce the possibility of ticket fraud, IATA spokesman Steve Lott says.

Cutting costs for travel agents

Travel agents also prefer them. "E-tickets cut down our costs," agrees Cheryl Hudak, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, which represents 20,000 agents and suppliers. "We can e-mail or fax an e-ticket and don't have to mail or express mail a paper ticket. We don't have to worry about lost tickets or filing lost-ticket applications."

Some passengers who buy an e-ticket at the last minute before a flight may be unable to check in at an airline's self-service machine. They must check in at an airline counter, Wilson says.

Of 350 airlines and 60,000 travel agents that transact business through IATA's billing and settlement plan, 40 foreign airlines are not yet issuing electronic tickets. About 15 are expected to begin e-ticketing by June 1, and about 20 others issue only a few tickets a month. After June 1, any airline without e-ticketing capability will have to sell paper tickets directly to passengers or make a special arrangement for a paper ticket with a travel agent.

IATA had originally set a Dec. 31, 2007, deadline to eliminate paper tickets but changed to June 1, because e-ticketing was not progressing fast enough in some countries. IATA officials say the June 1 deadline is firm, and they are working hard to increase e-ticketing in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia and 11 other former Soviet republics that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States. Those regions account for 8% of travel agent sales abroad. E-tickets represent 83% of travel agent sales in Africa and 54% of sales in the CIS. E-tickets got off to a late start in Russia, because they were prohibited by Russian law until last year, IATA's Wilson says.

But the trade group expects to rapidly increase the use of e-ticketing in these regions, because it has already been successful at some of the world's most remote airports. On Lamu Island off the coast of Kenya, for example, Kenya Airways passengers buy an e-ticket online or from the airline or a travel agent. They then take a ferry to Manda Island and check in at an airstrip with a thatch-roof hut and no electricity. Their e-tickets are checked against a passenger manifest brought by ferry by an airline employee.

"If we can bring the convenience of e-ticketing even to small remote island airports with no electricity," IATA Chief Executive Giovanni Bisignani says, "I am confident … we will be successful" in these regions.

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