E-TICKETS For better or worse
Time is a precious commodity to most journalists. Unrealistic
deadlines proceeded by long waits for a story to break or
a jury to render a verdict. It's an emotional roller coaster.
One minute it's hurry up and wait, the next its deadline-deadline-deadline.
So knowing the latest shortcut is a must, especially when
it comes to flying.
There's an ongoing debate between travel professionals and
the airline industry over the use of electronic or e-tickets.
The last thing you want to encounter when flying to cover
a story or leaving on vacation is a long wait at the ticket
E-tickets sounded like a great idea when they were introduced.
You call or go on line, make your reservations, show a picture
ID and off you go, no ticket to worry about. If you're prone
to losing things or flying non-stop to your destination and
the flights on-time an e-ticket won't pose any problems.
But, as most of you know, delays, cancellations, overbooking,
bad weather, airline strikes and missed connections are the
norm. Here are two entirely normal, yet different scenarios
that confront most air travelers.
Scenario one, you're issued an e-ticket and your flight is
cancelled. First, you and a couple hundred stranded passengers
rush to the ticket counter of "Cancelled Airlines" to find
another flight. Waiting in line could take a half-hour or
more. When you reach the counter, the ticket agent for "Cancelled
Airlines" checks the computer system for their next available
flight. None is available, but the ticket agent tells you
"On Time Airlines" has a flight that leaves in an hour. Unfortunately,
"Cancelled Airlines" can't book you on that flight. "Cancelled
Airlines" must issue you a paper ticket that you have to take
over to "On Time Airlines." It's now been an hour or more
since your flight was cancelled. Now you schlep your bags
over to "On Time Airlines." At some major airports like Atlanta's
Hartsfield Airport or Chicago's O'Hare, the journey, often
a train ride, could take you 15 minutes. Then you stand in
line at that counter. In the meantime, the flight you were
told was available when you left "Cancelled Airlines" is now
full and the search begins for another flight. Get the idea.
You've now spent approximately two hours in line waiting because
you didn't have a paper ticket.
Scenario two: While you were waiting in line to convert an
e-ticket to a paper ticket, those carrying a paper ticket
head to the nearest payphone. Armed with a paper ticket and
the airline's 800-number Mr. or Ms. Paper Ticket calls the
airline reservations desk and books another flight within
minutes. They simply walk to "On Time Airlines" hand their
ticket over, board the flight and arrive at their destination
within an hour or so of their original flight.
The airlines are working hard to coordinate their computer
systems to make e-tickets transferable, but until they do,
paper tickets are your best bet. Be advised most airlines
will charge you to print paper tickets.
Back in April, American Airlines started charging their customers
$10 for this service. They were not the first and won't be
the last. If you're a frequent flyer or circumstances arise
beyond the airlines control most carriers will waive the fee.
However, if you book through a travel agent, many will print
your ticket automatically, if not ask.