Be My Enemy

iPhone as plane ticket, a Passbook experience

PassbookiconI rarely venture forth from Center City Philadelphia, let alone the state of Pennsylaniva. However, circumstances conspired to force me to leave the Keystone state for a wedding over the weekend. As luck would have it Apple released iOS 6 with the banner Passbook feature mere days before I was to board my flight. Further proof of my luck: all four of my flights were on United, which is one of the few airlines who support Passbook at this moment (along with American Airlines and Lufthansa). How did it go?

The process

Using Passbook isn't difficult, but there are a lot of steps you have to take to get your eTickets into it:

  1. Launch Passbook and tap the "App Store" button.
  2. Download the United app to your iPhone (if you already have the United app you just start here, but I didn't).
  3. You might be tempted to launch Passbook again and look for a United entry at this point, but don't. You have to launch the United app, log in, and retrieve your reservation if it isn't associated with your United account (my tickets weren't for some reason, but that was easy enough to correct in the United app).
  4. Once you have the trip in the United app you then must wait until you can check into your flight (usually 24 hours before the trip). Check in, using the United app.
  5. When you check in you will have a couple options: you can just display an eTicket within the United app, or you can add your tickets to Passbook. Add them to Passbook and they show up as nicely designed eTickets (on my flight to CA both tickets showed up without a fuss, on my flight back to Philly it took some finagling to get my tickets back into Passbook. I had to "re-import" all my tickets for some reason).

There you have it, you can use Passbook to get onto your plane (and yes, the actual ticket has a QR code, which I've blurred out in the picture above)!


Now that your eTickets are in Passbook an alert shows up on your lock screen a few hours before your flight's boarding time. Swipe the notification and the eTicket is displayed with a QR code (if you have a lock code enabled on your phone this process does not require it. The eTicket is displayed without having to enter your PIN or password). One nice touch is that when your iPhone is displaying the eTicket the screen brightness is automatically set to the highest level (I usually keep my screen at 33% brightness) and then goes back to your setting when the eTicket is dismissed (by swiping upwards).

At the airport the friendly TSA folks and gate representatives all have scanners waiting for you. Just hold your iPhone, which is displaying your ticket, up to the scanner and wait for the green light that proves you aren't a security risk (the first time I scanned my ticket the scanner turned red and beeped loudly. I slightly panicked until I realized I had an exit row seat and they had to ask me if I was OK with sitting there… which I was). And that's it, you just used your $500 iPhone to replace a 1 cent paper ticket. Yay, technology!

Worth the hassle?

It seems to me that Passbook is a clever idea, but honestly having my eTicket with the QR code emailed to me (or just using the one displayed in the United app) would have been simpler. Once you get the ticket into Passbook it is a nice experience, but adding stuff to Passbook isn't intuitive. In fact, once I had my 2 tickets to CA in Passbook I didn't have the option to add anything else from within Passbook itself since the App Store button was no longer displayed.