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What is an E-ticket, Really?

Updated August 26, 2016

Unless you haven’t been on a plane for decades, you’ve probably used an e-ticket as your travel document. But even as common as it is for airline travel today, there still remains some confusion over what an e-ticket actually is.

An e-ticket is nothing more than a reservation in an airline’s computer system, one that advises them you have a ticketed seat confirmed on a particular flight.

When you’re issued an e-ticket there’s also an e-ticket receipt that’s printed out afterward. The e-ticket receipt often looks similar to an old-style paper ticket but doesn’t need to be presented at the check-in counter on the day of your flight (although we suggest you have it with you, just in case as it serves as proof that your ticket was issued).

To check in with an e-ticket you only need to provide a valid passport (for international flights) or government issued ID (domestic flights) so the agent can pull up your record in their system. The check-in agent then provides your boarding pass to take to the gate. It is recommended however that you take the e-ticket receipts with you on your trip as it serves as proof of your reservation in the event of a computer snafu or major electronic meltdown.

Fun fact: Southwest Airlines is credited with offering the world’s first e-ticket in 1994. A 2007 survey by IATA (the International Air Transport Association) said that 97% of all tickets worldwide are now issued as e-tickets. Environmentally speaking, IATA estimates that e-tickets save an equivalent of 50,000 trees per year by eliminating the need for the paper used to print them.

Some advantages of flying on an e-ticket

If you prefer, 24 hours before your flight, you can check-in online using your confirmation or ticket number from your e-ticket receipt on the airline’s official website, and if you choose, print your boarding passes, send scannable copies to your smartphone, or both. We recommend printing your boarding passes, and sending yourself the scannable copies. Use the scannable copies when possible, and keep the printed boarding passes for your records. Checking in online the day before you travel can save you time in the airport, even if you have to check bags, you won’t have to wait in line to see an agent or use a terminal to check-in, you can head straight to the line marked “bag drop”.

Traveling with e-tickets gives the added benefit of not having to carry valuable paper tickets with you on your travels, thereby circumventing the risk of theft, damage or loss. Most airlines still offer a paper ticket option but usually charge steep fees for them, upwards to $50 for the service.

Paper tickets still exist!

There are airlines in the world, albeit not many, that still issue paper tickets for their flights, mainly because updating their outdated ticketing system would not provide any savings over leaving it as it is.

Airlines still using paper-only ticketing systems are generally smaller operations and/or are low-cost local carriers. It has nothing to do with the airline’s quality or safety record.

Paper tickets sometimes, but rarely, need to be used when combining more than one airline on the same ticket. This is becoming increasingly uncommon, but there are occasions where the best fare does require a paper ticket. If AirTreks needs to issue a paper ticket for any leg in your journey, we’ll send you those tickets free of charge no matter where you are in the world. We’ll also make sure you know which legs of the trip have been issued that way and remind you that you’ll need to bring the tickets with you to the airport.

How to read an e-ticket

E-ticket receipts can be tricky to decipher – there’s a bunch of hieroglyphics (aka travel-speak) on any given one.

That said, there’s some very basic and important information there, specifically: date and city info, your airline and flight numbers and also the electronic ticket number, which is important to have if you’re looking to retroactively access your file (to add frequent flyer info or to attempt a post-date refund, for example).

When AirTreks sends off your ticket email, included are instructions on how to read a standard e-ticket. To download those instructions in pdf form click here. Otherwise, here’s how to read an e ticket:

hot to read an e ticket

A – validating carrier
B – means that this document can’t be used to board your flight
C – place and date of issue
D – electronic ticket number
E – passenger name
F – departure airport code
G – arrival airport codes
H – airline code and flight numbers
I – class of service and travel dates

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