Another bit of airline tradition may be fading into history like flight attendants in hats, silverware and pillows in coach.
Delta Air Lines agents on Monday stopped giving passengers paper ticket jackets. The move saves Delta money, though the airline won't say how much, in a way that shouldn't bother the vast majority of travelers who use electronic tickets, said Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott.
"They've become obsolete since passengers moved away from paper tickets," she said. "It's a cost savings and ultimately a good way to save paper." Delta believes it is "one of the first, if not the first" major airline to eliminate ticket jackets, Elliott said.
Frequent flier Michael Moule of Tampa might miss having the paper jacket to hold boarding passes when he flies on vacation with his family. But not on business trips, where he prints a boarding pass at home and takes only a carry-on bag to avoid waiting at the ticket counter.
"Even when I'm at the counter and they try to hand one to me, I don't take it," said Moule, a transportation engineer and Delta Platinum Medallion flier. "It's just extra paper they're wasting."
Paper tickets have become as rare as free meals in the back of the plane. Forty percent of travelers worldwide used electronic tickets at the end of 2005. That jumped to 70 percent in 2006 and 94 percent last year. E-tickets are the choice of 97 percent of U.S. airline passengers.
On June 1, the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, a trade group representing 240 airlines, will stop selling ticket agents abroad the paper stock for airline tickets. Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets in the United States, predicts that 99 percent of all airline tickets issued by travel agents will be electronic by the end of this year.
The shift has been a huge boost for struggling airlines. Distributing and accounting for a single paper ticket costs $10, compared with $1 for an e-ticket, says IATA spokesman Steve Lott.
Continental Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration are testing the next step in paperless travel: the electronic boarding pass.
Passengers taking domestic flights from Houston, Boston and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport can show gate agents and TSA officers a bar code sent by the airline to their cell phone or PDA. Hand-held scanners confirm the code.
At the end of the test, which will also include Newark Liberty International Airport, the TSA will decide on expanding the program nationwide, said spokeswoman Sari Koshetz. The potential savings: $3.50 to $5.50 per boarding pass, according to IATA.
"The paper that (airlines) use has been just an enormous expense," says Darryl Jenkins, an airline consultant in Virginia.
Airlines, however, might not be so eager to give up ticket jackets. AirTran Airways and others sell advertising space on paper folders. Orlando-based AirTran makes enough to cover printing, said spokesman Tad Hutcheson.
The airline briefly stopped using them and got a surprise. Customers picked up brochures for AirTran's Visa credit card and frequent-flier program to hold boarding passes. "I would rather have them using a ticket jacket with costs offset (by ads) … than a brochure which costs 25 cents each," he said.
Information from USA Today was used in this report. Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.