The travel industry community says Air Canada’s decision to move exlusively to electronic tickets on North American flights dovetails with consumer damands.

Air Canada said it will abandon paper tickets starting June 1, 2003.

The airline moved to ticketless travel for domestic passengers in late 2002, and based on its success is expanding its electronic ticket-only realm to the U.S., including Hawaii.

Graham Wareham, Air Canada’s Montreal-based manager of electronic ticketing, said that the Canadian market has been quick to adapt to e-ticket travel.

“”Canada by far has been leading the pack for us, so the decision to go for domestic e-tickets first was a no brainer. The numbers were in the 90 per cent range prior to going to only e-tickets,”” he said.

In fact, as of December 2002, over 94 per cent of all domestic tickets were issued electronically, as were 88 per cent of all eligible trans-border tickets. According to Wareham, all aspects of the travel industry have welcomed the migration towards electronic tickets.

“”There’s obviously a benefit to Air Canada in terms of cost savings. There’s a savings in terms of processing for travel agents, and customers like the fact that they don’t have to worry about losing their tickets. It’s a decision that hopefully benefits everyone,”” he said.

Susan Bowman, vice-president of business and industry relations at Thomas Cook Travel, said that the announcement is simply a step ahead for the travel industry, and not a surprising one.

“”We’re completely equipped to handle e-ticketing. The old days of carrying paper tickets for point-to-point airline travel is not expected anymore and most consumers don’t care,”” she said. “”It’s similar to moving to ATMs for banking.””

Besides the ease of e-ticketing, the elimination of the entire process of printing a paper ticket in the office, putting it into an envelope and sending it through a courier is a welcome move.

“”Nobody needs to bear the cost of that. Electronic ticketing is much easier to handle,”” she said. Travelers receive an e-mail confirmation and an itinerary, by mail, if booked through a travel agency.

Stuart MacDonald, managing director of in Toronto, said that while travelers are able to lighten their load with e-tickets, agencies are still required to do their share of printing thanks to legacy systems used by the BSP (Bank Settlement Plan), an international clearinghouse service that settles accounts between agents, airlines and travelers.

“”As it stands today, someone can come book a flight, get an e-ticket, receive a confirmation via e-mail, go to the airport, travel, come back, and theoretically not have any paper in their hands, while we on the back end are pushing paper through a printer to enable the process to work properly. It’s a situation where the marketplace and the desire to reduce cost and improve travelers’ convenience is ahead of the back end technology’s ability to support it at this time,”” he said.

MacDonald said that while typical Canadian travelers will not notice much of a change, some segments of the population will find flying without a paper ticket disconcerting.

“”This may be a challenge for some people, be they infrequent travelers or seniors or people who find the idea of traveling without the safety net of a paper ticket unsettling,”” he said. “”But it’s the next logical step in the evolution of things. For years people have booked car rentals received hotel confirmations without a ‘ticket,’ so this isn’t that big of a step. If it’s good enough for those types of transactions, it should be good enough for this type.””

Bowman said that her organization has been issuing e-tickets since Air Canada began the process several years ago. The travel industry’s familiarity and preparedness when it comes to the process of e-ticketing means that the announcement does not imply increased infrastructure. This includes Air Canada itself.

“”Back in 1996 when we started e-ticketing we had to do some infrastructure changes,”” Wareham said, “”but with the new policies there are no real changes required at this point for our infrastructure. We may have to add additional storage, but nothing out of the ordinary — it’s an ongoing thing.””

Additonally, Air Canada is continuing to use an e-ticketing product that it purchased from United Airlines.

Joe Greene, vice-president of telecommunications and Internet research at IDC Canada in Ottawa, said that the bottom line is that Air Canada is making a strategic move to save money.

“”It’s certainly going to be less expensive for them to conduct their business. Over the long haul, this is a good move,”” he said.

Air Canada estimates a savings of three dollars per ticket on average.


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