Travel Tip: Why Paper Still Matters in an Electronic Age

When readers shared their own travel tips and several really stood out as worth highlighting.

Harlan V. said,

When traveling abroad, always PRINT OUT your ticket information. I got stuck in a place where I didn’t speak the local language and needed proof of an onward journey. While I couldn’t TELL them, I definitely could whip out my travel info and SHOW them that I would be leaving the airport soon. This has saved me a few times!

There are many times it helps to have a printed e-ticket itinerary, and even a printed boarding pass. An itinerary can be helpful:

  • Getting into the airport Many airports in Asia — such as Male and Manila — will have security checking for itineraries on the way into the terminal.
  • Showing your onward travel plans at immigration. You may need to demonstrate you have an onward ticket when being admitted into a country, or for that matter when transiting. Transi security will often need to see either a boarding pass or itinerary.
  • Interlining bags across multiple itineraries. If you are traveling on separate tickets and checking bags, and want the airline you’re checking in with to interline those bags to the next airline in your journey, they’ll be much more willing to do so if you can show them an itinerary with details of the second ticket. Not all airlines interline bags at all, or with every other airline, but for those that do this is a standard requirement (that can be worked around if you have reservation information and a helpful agent).

I use electronic boarding passes much of the time, but what happens on the rare occasions that airline computer systems go down? A printed boarding pass can be manually collected.

One reader months ago made a great suggestion to me for use of electronic boarding passes as well, when you pull it up on an airline’s mobile app take a screen shot. I find that logging into the app can take awhile sometimes, especially without a great internet connection. That means delays getting into a club lounge or onboard a flight, and that can be awkward with a line of people behind you. Don’t be that traveler.

We’re not yet in a reliably all-electronic world.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I find that many foreign, and even many european outsourced lounges and airports, the staff want to see the paper ticket or the plastic elite card in order to proceed.

  2. I know you’re not an iPhone guy, but Passbook helps with mobile boarding passes immensely. It saves the BP in a readily accessible place and also defaults to show your BP on your home screen when it’s close to flight time so you just need one swipe on your screen to bring it up.

  3. I always print out the entire itinerary from the airline’s website. Also, I save an electronic copy in PDF and have that on my iPhone.

  4. Maybe things have changed, but even UK immigration in London wanted to see a paper ticket for my return journey back in 2009 and not the version on my phone.

    And even electronic boarding passes can cause problems when for example the plane goes mechanical after boarding, they disembark the aircraft, but upon rebounding the electronic boarding pass no longer exists. Yes, this has happened to me.

  5. Arriving in Dublin, I didn’t even think that I would need my return itinerary. But I did. Immigration asked when I was leaving. I told them in three days. told them Monday. They said prove it. I said I can’t. They Looked me up and down, and let me go on my way. Next time I will bring a printout

  6. Slightly tangential topic, but the the whole concept of proving an onward ticket – electronic or not – seems incredibly naive to me. All they’re doing is checking a piece of paper and whether it looks like you have a reservation or not! It’s trivial to fabricate such a ticket. I’ve gone through immigration before showing nothing but TripIt entries, which of course are directly “createable”. (To be clear, I personally have of course never shown anything other than valid, ticketed reservations)

    Unless they actually verify with the airline that your confirmation code is valid and ticketed, it’s completely unenforceable. And even then, it would be trivial to buy a fully refundable ticket with the intent of canceling it after you got it.

  7. Don’t be that traveler. Take a screenshot of the QR code or barcode of your electronic boarding pass so that you have it ready with relying on internet speed when you are boaring.

  8. I will echo that sentiment – I booked a ticket for a family member to a country that only allows 90 day stays. The outbound carrier would not allow the passenger onto the plane stateside unless they had proof of future departure within 90 days via a paper boarding document which the passenger did not have. Ultimately one of the gate agents allowed me to email them a copy of said future itinerary to their personal email address but planning ahead would have saved a lot of unnecessary stress and aggravation.

  9. This morning the electronic reader would not function in IAH; paper tickets were boarding first; eventually it came back on line

  10. A Printed Itinerary is a great reminder. On my last trip I could not get all of my boarding passes at check-in and had to use the printed itinerary to get through security when connecting in Narita. It was easy for them to look at the paper copy and for me to point out the specific flight.

  11. I always keep a copy of my ticket printed with me. Customs have asked me when I plan to leave and I just show it to them. It is great in Europe when I do multi countries with rail. Like fly into Germany and then fly out of Belgium. It always helps to keep a copy in EVERY bag you have, checked and unchecked. It can help prove who owns it and where it should be going to if it gets lost. On a BOS-SFO-YVR-ANC or luggage stayed in SFO as it did not make the AA to Alaska Airlines transfer. They delivered it the that night while we slept.

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