Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Technological travel tricks

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On the whole, the advance of technology doesn't seem to have done much for international travellers.

Despite the introduction of scannable passports we still have to fill out those silly arrival and departure forms which duplicate information that is available electronically. And the advent of computerised booking systems hasn't done away with the need to queue, check-in and wait for your boarding pass.

But, for domestic travellers, things are definitely getting better. Air New Zealand's self-check-in terminals are great and the little ePass my wife got through her lofty status in the airpoints programme - earned through paying to accompany me on trips - makes using the terminals even easier.

And now there's the mPass which, if you have the right sort of mobile phone, lets you walk straight to the departure gate and board.

Colleague Greg Dixon gave the mPass a try and wrote this report:

It's the sort of thing regular travellers daydream about: arriving at the airport just 30 minutes before flying, strolling casually through the madding crowds to the departure gate where, with a wave of one's mobile, one is ushered through to the air bridge.

Well, there must be a few daydreamers at Air New Zealand too because, thanks to its IT boffins, travellers with a half-way decent mobile can do exactly this with the airline's new mPass.

This particularly cool bit of technology - which is a tiny programme downloaded to and stored on your cellphone - allows users to download a boarding pass for a flight to their cellphone, a process that generates a two-dimensional electronic barcode on the phone which is then used for boarding the flight.

Not only does the mPass mean no more paper tickets, it also means that flyers with only carry-on luggage can go straight to the departure gate and, by scanning the barcode from their phone, directly board their flight. If you do have non-carry-on luggage, you instead use the barcode at the self-service kiosk.

The tiny, free cellphone application is available to those with java-enabled mobiles (Vodafone or Telecom) and, since late February, to the lucky 30,000 who have Apple's iPhone.

Air New Zealand is the only airline here to offer such an application for mobile phones, though other airlines offer a service using SMS text, MMS (PXT), or a WAP link which the user has to activate to get the barcode.

Air NZ chief information officer Julia Raue says the mPass is the latest step in the national carrier's programme to improve the domestic check-in "experience".

Now I know what you're thinking: it sounds too easy. Indeed Air New Zealand is billing the mPass as something for its "technology-savvy passengers" but, really, one doesn't have to be particularly techie or savvy to use it.

I found downloading the mPass application to an iPhone a fast, no-fuss task (users simply go to either the iTunes or application stores through the main menu and search using the phrase "Air New Zealand mPass"). It was a 30-second job at most.

Once the mPass thingie is on the phone, a user then simply opens the mPass application with a tap of the finger, chooses "add booking" (or "airpoints login" if an Air NZ airpoints member), enters the reference number from their emailed e-ticket and then their surname.

Almost instantaneously, the mPass generates a boarding pass bar code and lists the flight number, date, time and departure city and destination.

Boarding the flight is then just a matter of placing the barcode displayed on the phone over the departure gate scanner, and collecting a small receipt with your seat number. In other words: pass go for no extra cost and walk straight to your seat.

The iPhone is something of a traveller's friend, of course, with its ability to play movies, games, music, as well as its relatively easy-to-use Google-powered map and directions application. So it comes as little surprise that more than 3500 of its New Zealand users, early adopters of technology one imagines, had downloaded the mPass application in the month after its launch.

If your mobile isn't an iPhone, to download the mPass you have to go to airnz.mobi, a site designed to provide airfare and flight info on mobile phones and other PDA devices.

Whether you're an iPhone owner or not, there is a downside to the mPass: it can be used only on domestic flights.

Users, however, should stay tuned. Raue says the airline is "reviewing the process around international travel and how the mPass fits in".

- Jim Eagles

Pictured above: An mPass is displayed on an iPhone. Photo / Babiche Martens

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