Lufthansa’s Subway-Style Boarding

Airport Experience, Lufthansa

Anyone else out there seen Lufthansa’s Quick Boarding? I saw it on TravelPost’s blog and I’m not sure how I missed it before.

It appears that at some gates in Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin/Tegel, Dusseldorf, Hanover, Hamburg and Bremen (yes, all in Germany), you don’t need one of those fancy gate agents to get you on the plane. Nope. You can just board yourself. I’m told it looks something like this.

08_02_20 subwaylhboarding

Ok, maybe not. But this picture (the original, by the way, is from the excellent New York State Archives) shows that this is not a new idea. Back in 1934, these people were boarding subways exactly the way Lufthansa is now boarding aircraft. So what took airlines so long to do this?

Lots of things. Security probably played a role, as did the fact that you would need a lot of these scattered throughout the airport. I imagine that automation is important too. Just dropping a token isn’t going to ensure people are getting on the right flights.

The way Lufthansa has it set up, you take your boarding pass and scan it in the turnstile. That unlocks it and you can board. Once you’re through the turnstile, it spits out your boarding pass stub for you to keep. If you’re on the waitlist, you can watch a monitor showing who has cleared and gotten themselves a seat. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you can swipe your temporary boarding pass (saying you’re on the list) and it will spit out a new one for you. Nice.

I’m not sure how this works if you check-in online and print your boarding pass. Actually, I’m guessing it doesn’t since it requires a magnetic stripe, but it’s a start.

You can get more info and pictures (real ones) here.

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10 comments on “Lufthansa’s Subway-Style Boarding

  1. American pioneered this technology years ago. The little stainless steel stands you still see at each AA gate were originally equipped with card readers. Assuming you had a “paperless ticket”, and you did not have bags to check, you could bypass the ticket counter entirely, walk up to the gate, insert your premium level frequent flyer card (with magnetic stripe)and verify your name and seat assignment on the display panel. An internal cash register type printer would print a receipt with your seat number. The agent was supposed to verify your ID, but rarely did (Not so much for security back then as much as this was the only check in otherwise all electronic billing process)

    After 9/11 this became mostly a moot point as you needed a boarding pass just to get in the gate area.

    I think the current version of the device still has the card reader, just in case we ever get to widespread adoption of some kind of card based system that eliminates the requirement of paper boarding passes to get through security.

  2. As far as I understand, Lufthansa does not allow you to print your boarding pass at home. You can check in at home (and now even select/change seats, which was not possible until recently), but still have to print it at a self-check-in terminal at the airport. The boarding passes you get from this thing have the required magnetic stripe. Of course, the whole system could be upgraded to barcode. This way, people could print their boarding passes at home.

  3. Hmm. Not exactly new (as the blog you’re linking to seems to imply) — I have seen those in FRA for probably two years.

    By the way, in many German subway systems you buy a ticket and then just walk to the platform and board the train without having to deal with turnstiles and feeding coins/tokens/tickets into something.

  4. sntheorist – You can’t print them out for US flights, but according to the website:

    You can already check in online and then print out your own boarding pass on approximately 370 routes, amongst them the first long-haul routes, operated by Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, British Midland, Croatia Airlines and LOT. During 2008 the online boarding pass will be available on more European routes and many long-haul routes.

    Oliver – Thanks for pointing out they’ve been there for two years. That makes it even more embarrassing I didn’t know about it.

  5. The system works with a PDF417 2D barcode (at least looks very similar to it). You can look at up at Wikipedia. The main problem of the system is that Lufthansa forgot to add encryption to these fancy 2D code. So it is not very hard for someone with the knowledge to read the content of the LH boardingpass 2D and to tamper with it. Theoretically you can now create a fake boardingpass. Not to get a free flight but to check in luggage under a different name.

    The idea is to prepare a boardingpass for a specific flight at home with the name of a person who is on this specific flight. Then to go to airport to drop off a piece of luggage using this boardingpass. The luggage will now get a luggage tag and will be linked to this other person. Now you just go home and wait that whatever you put in the luggage will be detected during a security screen and the other person gets in trouble.

    I know it is probably not as as easy as explained but LH really should encrypt the data on the boardingpass. It doesn’t take a lot of space to add encryption to a 2D barcode but adds real security.

  6. I just used the system last week in Munich – my boarding pass had a cryptic bar code that I scanned at the machine and it gave me the green light and I walked though keeping the same boarding pass. Worked without a problem.

  7. I think this represents the European reliance on reason. For example, in Germany you can drink beer on the subway or board the tram without showing a ticket (honor system). As long as you do everything within reason. In America we are obsessed with torts, security, and are nannied around to avoid lawsuits. Even at night clubs in San Francisco, I get shoved along by guards who say, “You can’t stand on the stairs; you have to check your coat, etc. etc.” In Germany or Holland no one would care.

  8. Granted I’ve not seen it in person, but it seems similar to Delta’s gate set up at most airports in the US. A screen to tell you if you have cleared from standby/gotten an upgrade and a large boarding pass reader by the gate. The only difference I can see is that Lufthansa lets the machines handle the boarding pass collection/scanning instead of having an agent do it.

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