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E-tickets could mean cheaper air travel

Airlines encouraged to ditch paper tickets in a bid to cut costs

Beleaguered airlines could save themselves serious money if they ditch paper tickets in favour of electronic ones, according to analysts at GartnerG2. Air Canada will be the first airline to scrap printed tickets on all its North American routes from June.

This move is a natural progression for Air Canada, which sold e-tickets to eight million customers — one in two passengers — last year. The motives behind this move are simple: cost. Airlines can save around $5 (£3) per ticket in printing, handling and processing costs by swapping to an electronic format.

British Airways, which has set a deadline to move to 100 percent e-ticketing by December 03, sees the move as reducing both costs and complexity. "It means we can track all our passengers around the world via computer. It also helps with self-service and online check-ins, where travellers can register their arrival by simply punching in a six-digit reference code", explains a BA spokesperson.

Despite BA's commitment to switch to e-ticketing, European airlines are lagging far behind their US counterparts. Sita's 2002 Airline IT Trends survey, found that e-ticket use in Europe was less than 10 percent on average, as opposed to 51 percent in North America.

In the UK just 25 percent of customers are using e-tickets, although this could be set to change as BA pushes internet use to its customers. As well as encouraging the purchase of e-tickets in the run up to its 2004 deadline, it is also shifting all its air miles and frequent flyer programs online by March 04 so passengers can manage their rewards and flight schedules on the internet. A spokesperson said these changes should "enable us to pass on these cost savings [to our customers]".

If GartnerG2's estimates are anything to go by these savings could be significant, too. Its research states that based on a saving of $5 per ticket "members of the Association of European Airlines [including BA] can save $75m [£46m] for every extra 10 percentage points by which they boost e-ticketing".

BA says that, for customers, electronic tickets will work in the same way as paper ones and, thanks to more compatibility between airline systems, things like swapping on to another airline or changing flight should be no more complex than with a traditional ticket.

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