The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has bid farewell to the paper ticket on the eve of the industry’s conversion to 100% electronic ticketing.
“Today we say goodbye to an industry icon,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “The paper ticket has served us well, but its time is over. After four years of hard work by airlines around the world, tomorrow marks the beginning of a new, more convenient and more efficient era for air travel.”
Paper tickets date back to the 1920s. Each airline used a different form with varying rules. Airlines soon recognised the need for standardisation of traffic documents, regulations and procedures to support the growth of an industry that spanned the world. In 1930, the IATA Traffic Committee developed the first standard hand-written ticket for multiple trips. These same standards served the industry into the early 1970s.
Automation came in 1972. with the IATA Billing and Settlement Plan (BSP). This led to the birth of the IATA neutral paper ticket. For the first time the IATA logo appeared on the cover of tickets that could be used by any travel agent to ticket journeys on almost any airline in the world.
In 1983 the system was further automated with a magnetic stripe on the ticket back. This allowed all of the ticket information to be stored electronically on the ticket itself and it could be used as the boarding pass as well.
At its peak, 285 million of IATA neutral paper tickets (both versions) were printed in 2005.
The first e-ticket was issued in 1994. By 1997 IATA had adopted global standards for e-ticketing. But the evolution was slow and by May 2004, only 19% of global tickets were electronic.
At the 2004 Annual General Meeting in Singapore, the successive crises of war, terrorism and SARS were still being felt, the price of oil was approaching US$40 per barrel and the imperative for cost efficiencies was critical. IATA presented a plan for Simplifying the Business, the highlight of which was to achieve 100% e-ticketing.
IATA claims this 100% electronic ticketing objective was achieved on 1st June 2008.
Over four years, IATA deployed a global team of 150 people to work with airlines and system providers around the world to facilitate implementation.
“In four years we achieved what many thought was impossible. We made 100% ET a reality everywhere – from our largest hubs to small remote island airports with no electricity. It is an incredible industry achievement,” said Bisignani.
The organisations says a paper ticket costs an average of US$10 to process versus US$1 for an electronic ticket. With over 400 million tickets issued through IATA’s settlement systems annually, the industry will save over US$3 billion each year.
To complete the conversion IATA has contacted 60,000 travel agents in more than 200 countries to collect the remaining unused paper tickets in the system – some 32 million worldwide. These will be securely reclaimed, destroyed and recycled. “An era has ended. If you have a paper ticket, it’s time to donate it to a museum,” said Bisignani.