- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

A paper airline ticket used to symbolize the prestige of flying, once a luxury reserved for upper-income travelers of the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s who would sport their Sunday best to fly aboard America’s earliest passenger jets. Now, it is a symbol of comfort for older passengers who are leery of walking into an airport with nothing but their driver’s licenses as proof of their flight plans.

But just as flying in a suit and tie gradually became extinct, paper tickets soon will be gone, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said yesterday.

Traditional airline tickets are targeted to disappear completely by the end of 2007, according to the IATA, which represents 265 airlines worldwide. Currently, nearly half of all airline tickets are issued electronically.

The association estimates the phaseout could save more than $3 billion in printing and processing costs, as the price of issuing an electronic ticket is $1, compared with $10 for a paper ticket.

“They’re trying to save money any way they can,” said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. “That’s just the reality of what’s happening in the airline world. When you think about handling all that work — printing the tickets, sending them out, tracking, collecting, submitting for payment, managing lost tickets — it’s a very expensive process.”

The IATA has set a goal of 70 percent of tickets to be issued electronically by the end of this year, Chairman Robert Milton told an audience at the group’s annual meeting in Paris.

“It’s just a convenience factor,” said Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Gina Laughlin. “You don’t have to worry about carrying something in your pocket and losing the tickets.”

Still, there is some reluctance among passengers to sacrifice traditional tickets and place their trust in a computer system.

“To someone my age — I’m 66 — and for people who travel a lot less, there’s a certain comfort in having that paper ticket in your hand,” said Tim Brady, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Electronic tickets are only one example of how the commercial airline industry has evolved in the past several decades, said Mr. Brady, who has written a textbook on American aviation history.

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, people dressed up all the time. [Flying] was considered a luxury for a long time, so people, when they spent the money for the tickets, it was significant part of their budget — it was putting on the airs so to speak,” he said.

Service aboard passenger jets — including the food — was also better during that time, when the industry was still heavily subsidized, Mr. Brady said.

“In the earlier days of flight, one of the big advertising pushes for the airlines was the quality of service: the quality of food, quality of drinks, that sort of thing. You were treated in terms of food [in coach class] like you are in first class today, except for the free drinks. That’s all gone now,” he said, citing government deregulation of the industry as having helped shift the focus from quality of service and flight experience to how many people airlines can fit on a plane.

While passengers today still can obtain paper tickets by booking through a travel agent or calling the airline directly, the practice has become less common, he said. Online travel-booking sites now allow consumers to compare airline fares in the blink of an eye.

“Time has become a pricey commodity,” he said. “There’s a certain comfort in a paper ticket, but for the generations of young adults now, they’re very computer-savvy, they understand how things work. It’ll help them a great deal.”

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