Electronic Tickets...on Paper
By Elizabeth Holmes
It's painful, but I realize that, in light of current airline pricing polices, I have to abandon my insistence that travelers carry paper tickets. It is still true that paper tickets provide added security and flexibility when things go wrong en route. However, the airlines have made them so costly — up to $100 per ticket — that they are priced beyond their value.
Now that we are all stuck with electronic tickets, it is very important that you know about them, how to read them, and understand what part of your journey they cover. The first thing you will notice is that the electronic ticket (ETKT) is, well, made of paper — go figure. It's hard to tell whether this is airline irony or meanness, because the next thing that jumps out at you is the large print: "NOT VALID FOR TRANSPORTATION." But relax, look above your name on the left side of the ticket for the letters ETKT. This means that it is still really a ticket, and it is good for the transportation you paid for. All major carriers issue ETKTs. On an extended or complicated itinerary, it's not even uncommon to have a mix of electronic and paper tickets, so you really should understand the jargon and coding to know what document gets you from point A to point B.
To read what portion of a trip an ETKT covers, you have to learn a bit of airline lingo. On the far right-hand side of the ticket, in the area that used to be the boarding pass (again in the good old days), is a detail of the flights that an ETKT covers. You will have to learn the three letter city codes and two letter airline codes. Most come easily with a little thought, SEA — Seattle, JFK — New York, DTW — Detroit. The Europe codes might take a little more thought — CDG — Charles de Gaulle in Paris, MXP — Malpensa Airport in Milan. Generally the codes are pretty easy to discern and if you can't understand them call your travel agent and have him or her explain the itinerary to you. The essential details about each flight is on one line. For Example: "SEADTW UA927 27SEP" mean Seattle to Detroit on United flight 927 on September 27. "DTWCDG AF003 27SEP" means Detroit to Paris (Charles de Gaulle) on Air France flight 003 on September 27.
Depending on your itinerary, all flights covered on that ETKT should be listed. If not, call your travel agent.
Accompanying your ticket is an itinerary, and below each flight listed is a confirmation code. This is a unique code that is given to your file when you make your reservation. This is one of the best numbers to have when you check in electronically. If you don't have an itinerary, the confirmation code is also listed on the ETKT. If you lose everything, you are still filed with the airline as having paid for passage, and even without any documentation you are on the flight you paid for. On one hand, this is a benefit over the old days of having to replace a lost ticket on the spot and wait for a refund. On the other hand, with an ETKT, you are locked into one airline, so if they have a long delay or cancellation, you don't have the recourse of trying another carrier.
Elizabeth Holmes runs Elizabeth Holmes Travel in Seattle.