Cellphone could be boarding pass, too

Continental Airlines passengers in Houston will be able to board flights using just a cellphone or personal-digital assistant instead of a regular boarding pass in a three-month test program launched Tuesday at Bush Intercontinental Airport. The program could expand to airlines and airports nationwide.

Instead of a paper pass, Continental Airlines cal and the Transportation Security Administration will let passengers show a code the airline has sent to their cellphone or PDA.

The two-dimensional bar code, a jumble of squares and rectangles, stores the passenger's name and flight information. A TSA screener will confirm the bar code's authenticity with a handheld scanner. Passengers still need to show photo identification. The electronic boarding pass also works at airport gates.

If a passenger's cellphone or mobile device loses power, the passenger can get a paper boarding pass from a kiosk or a Continental agent.

Houston-based Continental, the USA's No. 4 airline, has been working on the new feature for years to increase the efficiency, eliminate paperwork and make travel easier, says Mark Bergsrud, a Continental executive.

It has some limits. For instance, only passengers traveling alone can use the electronic pass. Continental is trying to upgrade the technology so that it can accommodate multiple passengers traveling together, Bergsrud says.

TSA official Mel Carraway says the electronic pass allows screeners to better detect fraudulent boarding passes.

Continental will be the first airline in the USA to try cellphone boarding passes. Air Canada has been offering paperless boarding since September to customers who check in using a cellphone or PDA. It's also available in a couple of other countries.

"Our customers love the new service," Air Canada spokesman John Reber said. The number of fliers using the new procedure has doubled each week since Air Canada launched the option, Reber says. Most people who use the electronic boarding pass use it with a PDA, such as a BlackBerry rimm or Treo. palm

Other airlines in the USA, such as Delta dal and US Airways, lcc hope to offer paperless boarding passes soon.

The practice could become more widespread globally, too. In November, the International Air Transport Association, a worldwide trade group, estimated that more than 90 airlines are using electronic bar code scanners to check boarding passes. IATA said the technology is part of a larger trend toward more electronic ticketing, more self-service kiosks and radio-based baggage management.