The idea of printing and carrying a boarding pass seems a little ridiculous in the age of smartphones but it’s always good to either print a paper copy or plan to have the airport staff print one out.

Some people may think as if we’ve grown two heads when we say that always travel with a paper boarding pass. It has saved travel bacon more times than anyone can count, whether that’s with a phone out of battery, an unhelpful airline staffer, new regulations that people seem unprepared for, or needing to fix something that’s gone wrong.

The thing is, online check-in is a great idea, and you should absolutely do that as soon as you can. Not only will you get the best choice of seats, but getting yourself on the list of passengers who’ll be on the plane as early as possible puts you in a better position if the flight is overbooked, or if there are any other issues.

airport lounge image facing the runway

Paper passes might be a mandatory

For a start, some airports simply don’t allow mobile boarding passes.  And don’t be caught out: even if you can use mobile boarding passes on your outbound journey, sometimes they aren’t allowed on your return — and you wouldn’t believe how badly informed some airline websites are about that.

So perhaps have a think about where you’d print out a copy at your destination so you don’t have to hurriedly find an Internet connection, especially if you’re flying on one of those cheaper airlines.

In some countries, you’ll also need to have your boarding pass stamped at an initial kerbside security check. That can get a little complicated if you only have a mobile boarding pass and haven’t printed your itinerary.

immigration stamping on boarding pass

Relying on your phone can be a bad idea

We use our phones for so much these days that it feels like almost a no-brainer to add boarding passes to the list of their functions. But just thing: what’s your plan if you drop your phone and it breaks, or it goes on the fritz, or you run out of roaming data, or the battery dies?

Phone out of battery

We’ve also seen people whose phones start updating apps when they connect to wi-fi; even slow airport wi-fi. That’s especially prone to happen after being away from wi-fi when travelling. The last thing you want is for the airline app you need to choke halfway through an update when you’re trying to show your mobile boarding pass.

More practically, a paper boarding pass is especially useful at those airports that want to scan your boarding pass as you approach security: it’s a faff if you’ve already packed your phone into your luggage or stowed it deep inside a pocket with a half-dozen other things ready to go into the machine. Much easier with a piece of paper in your hand.

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Following up afterwards needs a paper trail

Most flights go off without a hitch, but sometimes things can happen that make having a paper copy easier.

Perhaps your suitcase went missing: your boarding pass makes the process of the airline trying to find it again much easier, and the paper boarding pass is also a handy place to stick that bag tag, which is the other key part of the puzzle.

lost luggage at the airport

It’s also useful if you’re connecting in certain countries, especially if you’re changing airlines: many places require you to be able to prove that you’re not going to stay illegally, so if Airline X is flying you to that country, and Airline Y is flying you onwards, best to be able to hand over the printed boarding pass for them to verify and perhaps photocopy for their records.

The same goes if you end up needing to seek assistance if your journey has gone a bit awry. Having all your travel details on a piece of paper rather than a phone that will go dark — needing you to unlock it and pass it back over to the staffer several times while they try to fix your issue — is so much easier.

And in a more urgent situation, imagine that your airline’s systems go down and you’re in a massive queue to be helped, with your phone battery edging lower and lower — or that there’s some sort of security alert and airport security are cracking down about identifying legitimate travelers.

So hit print or get the airport to print one for you. You’ll be glad you did.

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