Now you can use your smartphone to check in for international flights

By David Flynn, August 6 2018
Now you can use your smartphone to check in for international flights

International travellers can look forward to using smartphones to check in for flights departing from Australia, with electronic boarding passes being displayed on the phone rather than having to pick up or print out a paper boarding pass.

Some airlines including Qantas and Emirates have already been trialling mobile checkin for overseas flights, and the technology is now available to all airlines flying out from Australia – without the need to visit a check in counter and show your passport.

The move is aimed at reducing waiting time at airports and will prove a boon for business travellers and frequent flyers, who are typically early adopters of time-saving travel technology in an ongoing effort to streamline their travel, skip queues and maximise their time relaxing in the lounge.

However, for travel to countries where a visa may be required, this may be carried out at the lounge or even at your flight's boarding gate if you opt for mobile check in.

"Last financial year more than 21.4 million travellers were cleared through the border departing Australian international airports," said Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge in announcing this step towards more seamless travel.

"These increasing volumes mean we are always looking for ways to clear legitimate travellers efficiently and seek out those of interest to law enforcement."

It will now be up to each airline to embrace mobile check in and build this into their apps or mobile websites. Australian Business Traveller has contacted several leading airlines to ask when they expect to offer mobile boarding passes and will update this article as each airline responds.

Qantas now offers digital boarding passes for most international flights departing Australia, with some exceptions such as flights to the USA, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Cathay Pacific and Emirates have advised Australian Business Traveller that mobile boarding passes are available at all Australian airports which the airline serves.

United Airlines also supports mobile checkin for its US-bound flights from Sydney and Melbourne.

Singapore Airlines has been trialling mobile boarding passes for departures from Adelaide and Canberra, and the airline says this will continue to be available, with plan to progressively extend this to other Australian airports.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 154

A lot of international travel now requires a visa or at least an ETA. So airlines have to check your passport to make sure you have one. Travel to New Zealand is a stand-out exception. I don't see how a phone-displayed boarding pass will reduce waiting time at international airports for flights where you have to queue up somewhere - kiosk, check-in counter or gate - to get your passport verified anyway. Maybe if it can be done in the lounge: but lounges are getting big enough that a lot of people are going in to wait for a lot of flights and there'll likely be a bit of a queue there too .

05 May 2016

Total posts 630

Another thing is that some businesses require the original paper boarding passes for proof that you actually travelled.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 105

Its interesting how far you can get without a boarding pass. I was on a QF flight to SFO last month. At the US pre gate security check a guy turned up and was asked for his boarding pass. He was asked if he had one on his phone or a physical one. He also did not have either. He was directed for further questioning by security. Its just interesting he got into the sterile area without any proof of travel.

19 Mar 2016

Total posts 7

He may have connected from another domestic flight, which would have put him in the sterile area since he would have cleared security at the departure airport. In that case, there are all kinds of reasons he might not have had his boarding pass: separate tickets, missed connection, misplaced boarding pass...

So airlines flying to the USA could check for an ESTA at the lounge instead of at the checkin desk? That's okay by me, I would rather go straight to customs and through security and get to the lounge and have them check this there. But I expect that if your airline doesn't have its own lounge then you would be checked at the departure gate. For example, ESTA prior to a QF flight to Los Angeles could be checked at the Qantas lounge but not a Virgin or United flight as their staff are only working at the checkin desk and the departure gate.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Sep 2012

Total posts 241

By the time you enter the sterile area where the lounge is located you should have received full security and immigration clearance including whether you have the necessary visa. Checking for visas at a lounge in these circumstances would be impossible. Why? Because if you don't have the right visa - where do you go after that? Duty free? Sterile areas are called sterile for a reason.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2482

Couple of things here - specific to the USA, if you don't have an ESTA or a valid US visa, you won't be able to receive a boarding pass (the system literally won't be able to check you in without an "OK to board" flag from the US government).

For other destinations, yes, it's possible to do the visa check in the lounge. Whether or not you have a valid visa for a destination doesn't affect your ability to leave Australia (the Australian government just checks that you have the right to leave the country), nor your ability to clear security if you have a boarding pass. Your right to board, however, could be affected by not having a visa and there are procedures in place for 're-entering' Australia should you be airside at the international terminal and unable to travel for one reason or another.

05 May 2016

Total posts 630

A while back I checked-in online for a flight from SFO to Australia. Printed off my boarding pass and they checked my passport etc. at the gate.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Nov 2017

Total posts 25

Just used it this morning for PER-SIN, currently in my seat awaiting pushback. Was seamless and straightforward, apart from some QF staff be unaware. I was given a bp at the gate though in lieu of the paper printout, so you do still end up with one if needed. Passport check done at the gate, otherwise no interaction with staff required - as close to a domestic flight as you can get, particularly being at QF domestic terminal.

04 May 2018

Total posts 43

Passports still need to be checked for visas, inbound to Australia -unless no visa is required - however boarding passes on'phones should work on exit as the minister is implying.

Immigration have your departure record on the flight record so no need to show passports as is the case in UK, however airlines still check passports for identity purposes.
Was recently asked by Argentinian pax airside at UK, where was immigration desk? Amusing when l said next was Argentina not at UK!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 105

I actually like getting a boarding pass. Its a good keep sake for all my adventures and places i have been. I still request a printed cardboard one from the service desk on domestic. I dont like the flimsy receipt paper ones from the machines. So i hope i can still get this type of one when travelling in the future.

04 May 2018

Total posts 43

Used for awhile yet since there's no requirement to carry a cellphone.

In Hkg useful to reclaim airport tax if you go landside and leave the same day - tax office needs to photocopy the pass to give you money!

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 157

It's a great step forward but what about the case where if you're departing say SYD on a business class flight and want to be able to get an express pass for immigration/security, wouldn't you still need to go to the check-in counter for this?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 105

Not really. CX have express passes section along with the lounge invite as part of the print at home boarding pass. They have a section that has the invite along with the express pass logo. The mobile version is similar if i recall.

Yes, the Qantas 'print at home' passes are the same, everything is right there on the page.

Being in business class automatically gets you entry to the Express Path lane. You only need a pass for this if your ticket shows a booking in economy or premium economy.

06 Aug 2018

Total posts 1

I assume you still have to queue for baggage check in.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 105

Sydney International QF now has bag drop like domestic so less queueing. Not every airline has it though.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Jan 2016

Total posts 91

There goes one less thing to do at the airport on the way OS. From what I understand the only reason to stop at the QF Bus or 1st check-in area is to drop off your bags and pick up an 'Express' pass, assuming you have not printed at home. So if you could get the 'Express' pass on your phone as well and kerb side drop off's become national then thee is no need to stop, except for the 'other' queues...

05 Mar 2012

Total posts 12

I'm a bit confused on all the "check for a visa" discussion above. Now that mobile boarding passes are accepted from all Aussie ports to all destinations, I'm sure the airlines will upgrade their apps to the same standard as I've seen in the US / UK / Singapore - scan passport page with camera, run it through OCR, and verify electronically. It's literally the same thing the check-in agents do - just with slightly different tech.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Sep 2011

Total posts 79

In my experience a significant proportion of passengers check in with suitcases - in fact look as though they’re running away from home and taking the kitchen sink with them - so I suspect counters will still be required for bag drops

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Nov 2016

Total posts 67

I can see how it will be handy but I like checking in at Sydney's First area and I like the feel of the paper in my hand. Nice to have a back up on the mobile though. Something new to try

British Airways - Executive Club

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 3

I’ve visited NZ five times in last four years (from UK) and each time I return, I’ve got to airside at AKL without having to produce a boarding pass. Still find it shocking. Many airlines/airports have been allowing mobile boarding passes for years; I’ve used them many times at LHR T5 with BA, for example. If you have luggage, they don’t save any time at all. Apart from confirming seat assignment, the only advantage I see from mobile check in is saving a bit of paper.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 341

I bet you us poor South Africans will still be pulled aside and given the interrogation treatment with our poisoned, “Green Mamba” passport 🤪🤪

It’s a nightmare to travel on that bloody thing.. you need a visa for practically EVERYWHERE (except Singapore.. brilliant traveling there as no visa required🤓)

I might have Brexit to look forward to 🤮 but at least next year I will have a British (blue🙄) passport (and will be £2000 lighter in the banking department for the privilege)

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