AlnessW
Topic Author
Posts: 615
Joined: Wed Jun 16, 2010 8:23 pm

Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Mon Jul 02, 2018 7:05 pm

Any gate agent/boarding/document experts out there? This one's for you!

Since the departure of magnetic stripe encoding some time ago (not IATA-recognized anymore, as I recall) barcodes or other QR-type codes have obviously become the standard for boarding passes. From what I can tell, this encodes nothing more than the passenger name, airline/flight number, and seat number.

For a while, the usual approach (again going off memory) was for the gate agent to scan the barcode and then tear the stub off manually. While I HAVE seen this done on occasion in the last decade or so, I can't think of any recent flights I've been on where the agent kept the larger portion of my boarding pass. Hence, my UNDERSTANDING was that tearing would only be necessary if there was some circumstance where boarding documents would need to be double-checked, filed or otherwise post departure. Anyone here know? What about on international flights, where there's a field on the back with instructions to complete said field for retention by an airline representative?

Here's my question - with the popularity of mobile boarding passes, QR codes, and the like these days, what exactly would happen if the gate agents had a scenario where they would need to manually board the flight (down computers, etc.) or otherwise keep a portion of everyone’s boarding documents - if 1/3 of people on the flight were using mobile phones to board? Would the agents need to print out paper copies for those passengers, then tear them?

I remember boarding a JetBlue flight PDX-BOS once, and B6 only has 1 x gate in Portland (with appropriate signage, software, etc.). However, the flight to JFK scheduled to leave well before ours was delayed due a mechanical problem, meaning the gate was blocked and they couldn't use it for the BOS flight as per normal. So, they had to board that flight out of a neighboring gate that is normally used only for arriving aircraft. There's seating, a display board, podium, and PA system - but no computers or software. I felt REALLY bad for the gate agents as they had no way to view flight info or assign seats – simply announcing "if you need a seat assignment, go to gate C6 next door." Then of course when it was time to board, they tore each pass without scanning it. What would happen here if a passenger had planned to board using only his/her cell phone?

I faintly remember long before web check-in, United (other airlines too, I’m guessing) would use "gate readers" to board the flight - you would insert your boarding pass into a machine that would read the magnetic stripe, display the passenger's info on an LCD screen, then cut the stub off which would be returned to you at the opposite end. I was delighted to recently find this little gem that better outlines the process - man, THOSE were the days!

http://www.garybrandenburg.com/gatetraining/

Given technology, I'm guessing that was a "standalone" unit that wouldn't talk to computers at all. That is - agents would empty the bin full of boarding passes to be manually entered into the system. Who here knows?
 
calt03
Posts: 25
Joined: Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:38 pm

Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Mon Jul 02, 2018 8:46 pm

You confirm via sequence numbers I guess that are pre printed at start of day?
Visa checking info will be limited if systems down, but there is backup system that can be used, but APIS data may not be automatically sent to the arriving nation.

I haven't worked as a FA for quite a while- so maybe ask a gate agent?
 
nws2002
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Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:01 pm

At the airline I work for, we have a manual boarding process outlined in the case of a computer outage.

If the system goes down, we generally tear the airport and web boarding passes in half, letting the passenger keep one side and we keep the other. For mobile passes we write down the seat number. If the system comes back up before boarding is completed we quickly board the passengers in the system. If the system is still down when it is time to close the gate door, we quickly count up all the paper passes and mobile seat numbers we wrote down and have the flight attendants manually count passengers to verify the counts match and for weight and balance.

Once the system is back up, we have to go in and board everyone onto the flight, so we keep all the paper boarding passes halves and sheet with seat numbers written on it until that happens.
 
STLflyer
Posts: 114
Joined: Sun Oct 01, 2017 2:08 am

Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Thu Jul 05, 2018 5:52 pm

A few months ago, on an early morning flight from STL-ORD on UA, we boarded at a non-United gate, or it was a newly acquired UA gate that didn't have a computer there for some reason. Anyways, the gate agent had a printed manifest, and highlighted everyone who boarded. I assume he went back to a UA computer after we departed and "boarded" us. Gotta admit, during the flight I was worried that he'd forget to do something and my connecting flight in ORD would be canceled due to a no show. But no problems at all.

Not sure what they'd do in the event of a complete outage and couldn't print a manifest, I guess they'd write down sequence numbers. But if the systems are completely down, I doubt you'd be going anywhere anytime soon.
 
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XAM2175
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Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Thu Jul 05, 2018 9:21 pm

AlnessW wrote:
Since the departure of magnetic stripe encoding some time ago (not IATA-recognized anymore, as I recall) barcodes or other QR-type codes have obviously become the standard for boarding passes. From what I can tell, this encodes nothing more than the passenger name, airline/flight number, and seat number.


Far from it mate!

The IATA BCBP standard requires more and permits a lot to go into that barcode, which can be in one of a handful of symbologies (namely PDF417, Aztec, QR, or Datamatrix).

Mandatory items for a BCBP are:
Format code, number of legs encoded, passenger name, E-Ticket indicator, operating carrier PNR, from-airport designator, to-airport designator, operating carrier designator, flight number, flight date, compartment/cabin code, Seat Number, check-in sequence number, and passenger status.

Additional items that can be encoded include:
Passenger description, check-in source, boarding-pass-issue source, date of BP issue, document type, BP-issuing-airline designator, baggage-tag licence-plate number, airline accounting designator, document form/serial number, US TSA Selectee indicator, international document verification, marketing carrier designator, passenger frequent-flier program airline designator, passenger frequent-flier program membership number, ID/AD ticket indicator, free baggage allowance indicator, Fast-Track eligibility indicator, and so on and so forth.

AlnessW wrote:
For a while, the usual approach (again going off memory) was for the gate agent to scan the barcode and then tear the stub off manually. While I HAVE seen this done on occasion in the last decade or so, I can't think of any recent flights I've been on where the agent kept the larger portion of my boarding pass


I would be curious to know to what extent this practice occurs, only because in all of my flying over nearly twenty years I've only ever had any part of my BP retained at boarding twice - on QF8 BNE-SYD in 2014 (between international terminals, and they retained the small stub) and on SU SVO-LHR in 2016 where they kept the large stub.

Other than that never, and that includes the scores of QF flights on mag-stripe BPs - they were machine-read and returned to me whole.

AlnessW wrote:
I faintly remember long before web check-in, United (other airlines too, I’m guessing) would use "gate readers" to board the flight - you would insert your boarding pass into a machine that would read the magnetic stripe, display the passenger's info on an LCD screen, then cut the stub off which would be returned to you at the opposite end. ... Given technology, I'm guessing that was a "standalone" unit that wouldn't talk to computers at all. That is - agents would empty the bin full of boarding passes to be manually entered into the system.


The gate reader is a computer - it needs to be to read the mag-stripe, process it, validate it, and then display the data. It's a lot more than a glorified paper-cutter! Entering all the stubs manually would have completely negated the purpose of BPs ever advancing from cards with seat numbers stuck on them.
 
mchei
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Joined: Thu Jan 04, 2018 1:20 pm

Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Fri Jul 06, 2018 4:18 pm

A couple of weeks ago I was on a LH flight from MUC to HEL. The plane was boarded from the gate and the ordinary scanners at boarding were working. Nothing special. Minutes before closing the doors two ladies with a strong Russian accent called the purser claiming that two other ladies were sitting on their seats. Well, we know this. Happens all the time. But these two Russian accent ladies happened to be on the wrong flight and they indeed had these seats on their boarding passes, but only for a total different flight. Also a Lufty flight but to another destination. The purser laughed, told us (we were sitting only one row away) that he had never experienced anything of that kind and brought the two ladies back to the jetway.
With all the stuff that goes into a barcode this really made me wonder how this could happen.
 
UALFAson
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Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2004 2:41 pm

Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Fri Jul 06, 2018 6:41 pm

mchei wrote:
With all the stuff that goes into a barcode this really made me wonder how this could happen.


It's rare, but I have seen it happen a couple of times. In fact, I'm pretty sure there have been threads talking about how this can happen. The most likely explanation is that the gate agent isn't paying 100% attention during boarding. They're helping a colleague with a computer issue, answering a passenger's question, inspecting carry-on baggage, etc. and when the bar code reader beeps for the wrong flight, they either don't hear it or manually clear it in the system without catching it.
"We hope you've enjoyed flying with us as much as we've enjoyed taking you for a ride."
 
mchei
Posts: 33
Joined: Thu Jan 04, 2018 1:20 pm

Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Sat Jul 07, 2018 12:38 am

That makes sense, UALFAson. Are you basically saying that, at the end, it’s not the computer but the human interface that caused this? With the amount of flights ground staff needs to handle at bigger airports and the short amount of time they have at their hands that would be a perfect explanation.
 
alasizon
Posts: 1387
Joined: Sat Apr 28, 2007 8:57 pm

Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Sun Jul 08, 2018 11:51 pm

UALFAson wrote:
mchei wrote:
With all the stuff that goes into a barcode this really made me wonder how this could happen.


It's rare, but I have seen it happen a couple of times. In fact, I'm pretty sure there have been threads talking about how this can happen. The most likely explanation is that the gate agent isn't paying 100% attention during boarding. They're helping a colleague with a computer issue, answering a passenger's question, inspecting carry-on baggage, etc. and when the bar code reader beeps for the wrong flight, they either don't hear it or manually clear it in the system without catching it.


Sometimes BP's don't always print correctly either. Today we had two passengers going to Mexico that when their boarding passes were scanned, the info for their inbound flight was being read from the barcode but all the rest of the info on the BP was correct.
Manager on Duty & Tower Planner
 
drdisque
Posts: 732
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 9:57 am

Re: Boarding a Flight at the Gate - Gate Readers et al

Mon Jul 16, 2018 3:17 am

The UA mechanical boarding machines (at least the stainless steel ones that debuted in the 90s) WERE connected into Apollo and monitored boarding progress centrally. For example the main gate counter could page or offload passengers who hadn't boarded without having to unload the passes.

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