Virgin Australia introduces the smartphone mobile boarding pass

By John Walton, May 4 2012
Virgin Australia introduces the smartphone mobile boarding pass

Virgin Australia's smartphone boarding pass system has been quietly rolling out this week, allowing passengers to check in, select seats and head to the gate using nothing more than their phone for flights between the "triangle" of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

However, as with Qantas' Next-Generation Checkin, the system isn't entirely paperless.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson explains: "The guest will scan the barcode on their (mobile) device at the gate which will automatically print a boarding pass to be provided for the guest to use when boarding the aircraft."

"The printed boarding pass is for guests entering via the rear door as you cannot have a mobile device switched on when crossing the tarmac" we're told.

"In addition when boarding via the front door, the printed boarding pass ensures a seamless process when entering the aircraft."

"If travelling between any other domestic airports, then a printed boarding pass can be collected at an airport kiosk, or from staff at the bag drop counter," the spokesperson concluded.

Not an app, but a mobile-specific website 

Rather than going for a specific app for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and so on, Virgin Australia has a universal mobile website that you can use on just about any smartphone handset. (Or, we imagine, a tablet, although you're likely to look quite daft trying to swipe your iPad for boarding.)

"Virgin Australia Guests are able to check in on any domestic service at any domestic port from their mobile handset," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.

But you can't board without a piece of paper everywhere, the spokesperson noted: "Currently guests who use the mobile boarding service flying the Triangle (SYD-MEL-BNE) can board without a boarding pass and are able to use their mobile handset if they have checked in."

How to get your mobile boarding pass

An Australian Business Traveller reader was among the first to use the new system, and sent us some screenshots of the process to show how it all works.

To start off, note down your six-digit reservation number (what frequent flyers know as the PNR) and head over to Virgin Australia's mobile site, mobile.virginaustralia.com:

You'll obviously tap the "Check-In" button on the middle right-hand side, which brings you to a page to type in your PNR (which is why you noted it down before) and your name.

You're then straight through to your booking summary. (We've redacted the information that could identify our reader in this case.)

As you can see, all the relevant flight details are there. To select a seat, tap on the seat number. More on that process shortly.

Once everything's to your liking, you can either have your boarding pass sent as an electronic 2D square QR barcode to your phone (you'll need to be able to receive an SMS with the link) -- or you can pick it up at the airport: just tap the "Send to Mobile" option and put in your number if you prefer the former.

Here's how you change your seat if you want to. It's a simplified layout compared with the regular website and slightly different to what you're probably used to, so make sure you refer to our series of guides on picking the best seat on the plane if you want to choose a prime spot. 

It's back to the Booking Summary page from there, and a tap of the Continue button for the next step.

Naturally, you have to answer the usual daft questions abut whether you've packed anything dangerous, although at least the cartoons are good fun.

(Our reader didn't tap the red button here, but we'd imagine that your check-in would go slightly awry if you admitted to infectious substances, explosives or so on.)

Here's what you get at the end of the process: the check-in confirmation page.

By the time you've finished reading that, you'll probably have heard your phone chime or felt it vibrate to let you know there's a text message waiting for you. It'll look something like this:

Click on the link at the bottom, and there you go: your boarding pass will pop up in your web browser.

When it's time for boarding and you have this page open and ready, you might want to lock your phone's screen orientation so it doesn't tilt the screen when you flip the device over to scan it.

That's because many mobile boarding passes won't scan if the phone is sideways (in landscape mode) rather than lengthways (in portrait mode). 

The horizontal landscape mode worked for our reader (as you can see), but you won't be giving off a slick, Up in the Air-style look if you flip your phone over and the machine steadfastly refuses to give you that green light, leaving you to fiddle with it at the front of the queue.

And from there it should be onto the plane and to your seat -- paperlessly. But it's not: you'll get the regular paper boarding pass at the gate to take with you on the plane. That's a serious drawback.

"We will be looking to make further announcements on expansions to this service at a later date," Virgin Australia's spokesperson promised.

The airline could potentially take a leaf out of its close partner Air New Zealand's book and have small confirmation receipts generated only for passengers who need them when swiping a mobile phone to board.

It'll be interesting to see how the service develops -- and we'll keep you posted.

Have you tried Virgin Australia's mobile boarding pass? How did it go? Share your experiences (and tips) with your fellow Australian Business Traveller readers in a comment below.

And for the very latest news and reviews for the business traveller, follow us on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

19 Dec 2011

Total posts 1

I've done this mobile process, with QR boarding code on my phone, with other airlines and they all print out a piece of paper after it's scanned.
I was told that was for onboard recogntion - which makes sense as a) unless the onboard cabin crew carry QR scanners, they don't know where you're sitting and b) if you needed to check your boarding pass onboard you're supposed to have your phone off - right? ;-)
Until technology moves to RFID or similar technology, then I think we may still  need the piece of paper. 


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