Thursday, January 10, 2008

Online check-in I can get onboard with

I think you've probably picked up on the fact I spend a little bit of time on a plane. As a result, I work very hard to make the entire experience as painless as possible. The simplest thing to do is to limit the time you have to stand in line, and make the trip through security as painless as possible. This has led me to making sure my entire wardrobe able to be shoved into a backpack so I can carry it on, to make sure I have 3oz sample size of everything, and check-in online whenever possible.

Online check-in is a bit of a double edged sword for me. Certainly I like the convenience. What I don't like is the security issue it introduces.

Everyone has heard about the no-fly list. The main-stream media has had a bit of a field day with stories of otherwise innocent people not being able to fly, or at least having problems boarding a plane, because their name matched one on the list. The problem is that with online check-in, the no-fly list is easily bypassed.

Imagine if you will that I'm a terrorist on the no-fly list with a rather unfortunate name of "Aibee A. Terrorist". I go online to book my travel, and on Travelocity I type in a traveler name of "Homer Simpson". That name will be the only one that a computer sees, and as a result, the only name checked against the no-fly list.

Before my flight I print out my boarding pass at home. My ID says "Aibee A. Terrorist", but my boarding pass says "Homer Simpson". This is not a problem. I scan my boarding pass. A little quick editing, and I change the name on the boarding pass to "Aibee A. Terrorist" and print out this boarding pass, leaving me with one with my real name, and one with my fake name.

I show the TSA agent my boarding pass with "Aibee A. Terrorist" along with my ID. Unless the agent has the no-fly list memorized, there is going to be no check of my legitimate name against the no-fly list. When I board the plane, I give the gate agent the "Homer Simpson" boarding pass. When the pass is scanned, the screen displays the same name as the boarding pass, and I'm allowed to board.

At no time did a computer confirm that I am in fact the person on the boarding pass, and at no time was my real name checked against the no-fly list.

In the interest of full disclosure, none of the above is my idea - it's something I read in another blog a long time ago. Certainly, a terrorist can obtain a fake ID, but the above can be pulled off by almost anyone with a scanner and a printer.

What's the fix? Well the simplest thing to do is start checking ID's again at the gate. But that slows down the boarding process, and airlines don't want to do anything that slows down the boarding process.

An even better solution? One that's both more convenient for passengers and one that will confirm that the name on the boarding pass is in fact the same as my ID?

Well, Continental (and a couple of other airlines) are testing a new system where they send a link to your cell phone, and clicking on that link brings up your boarding pass. You show the image on your phone to the TSA agent. The TSA agent scans it, confirming the name on the pass, and your ID, and in turn, making sure your name actually did get checked against the no-fly list.

As an added bonus for someone like me who doesn't always have access to a printer, I can check in without having to worry about printing anything out.

Easier for me? More secure? This is a online check-in process I can get on board with.


Sarah said...

Ha! Get "onboard."

jersey said...

I'm clever. What can I say?