Paper boarding passes could become an endangered species as more airlines offer boarding passes via mobile devices, which allow you to download a bar code to your Web-enabled phone or other device in place of printing a piece of paper.
United Airlines began offering the service last week in 13 airports. The airline expects to expand the service to 30 other airports by summer, according to a spokeswoman.
"It gives customers added convenience," said Sarah Massier, a United spokeswoman.
American Airlines recently added 19 new airports to the eight where it already had offered the service.
Southwest is expected to debut the service soon, said Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for the airline. Continental, Delta and Alaska already offer mobile boarding passes.
No more scrambling to find a printer when you're staying at a hotel or visiting your grandmother. Just connect to airline Web sites to check in, receive a link to a boarding pass with the bar code, click on it and save it.
At the security checkpoint and at the gate, turn on the device, such as an iPhone, and a scanner device will read the bar code. You'll still need picture identification.
Continental Airlines was the first U.S. carrier to offer the service, beginning in December 2007. Continental now offers it in 40 cities, said Mary Clark, a spokeswoman for the airline. The service should hit its 2 millionth customer later this year, she said, and the airline is continuing to add cities.
The service has proved popular with business travelers who are flying alone and might make frequent changes or have multiple destinations, said Tim Smith of American Airlines.
For those with a continuing love affair with mobile devices, more airlines are also adding Wi-Fi in cabins, so you can e-mail and fill up your Facebook page as you fly.
Aircell, which is federally licensed to provide airborne communications, launched its in-flight service, called Gogo, in 2009 with 30 aircraft, which has now expanded to 760 planes.
The service is expanding to two to five aircraft a day, said Niels Steenstrup, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. "It's just like going into a coffee shop and paying with a credit card," he said.
Service is typically on longer domestic flights.
The Internet connection will essentially perform the same as on the ground, but some users who attempt to download large files, such as a movie, could run into slower speeds, he said.
Cost begins at $4.95 and depends on the type of device and the length of the flight.
Virgin America and AirTran have wired up their whole fleets. Delta, American Airlines and United all have aircraft with Gogo service. Air Canada has a few planes in U.S. airspace that offer it. Continental is installing Gogo service in some of its planes.