What Do Boarding Pass Scanners Actually Do?

On a recent trip, lapointdm scanned her boarding pass, boarded her flight, and engaged in a discussion with a flight attendant about a predicament whereby she and another traveler both had the same seat number listed on their boarding passes.

The flight attendant found both passengers a seat and everyone was on their merry way.

Until about halfway through the flight, when a PA announcement mentioning the flight’s destination made lapointdm realize she had boarded the wrong plane.

I didn’t even think these things happened and would never have thought it would happen to me! I’m trying to decide if I should send thems a letter to provide more information on the situation (to prevent that from happening to someone else – I’m a safety professional by trade so I have some inherent professional interest in preventing this)

Mistakes can happen, and in this case it was pretty much a perfect storm of mistakes. But what I find really interesting is that the boarding pass scan at the gate didn’t raise an alert. What is being read by the scan after all if not information confirming that the boarding pass being scanned matches the flight information?

And according to some sleuthing by Shaun Ewing, that is exactly what is included in the boarding pass’s barcode.

So we are left with the following most likely options to explain why a mis-board wouldn’t be caught at the scanner:

  1. The scanner wasn’t operating correctly and either didn’t read the boarding pass properly or failed to communicate an alert
  2. Scanners don’t have alert communication features
  3. The scanner was working perfectly and the gate agent performing the scan failed to recognize whatever indications are provided that the boarding pass being scanned did not match the flight information

My money is on #3.

Read the thread in its entirety: Never in a million years thought this would happen to me!

Image: “ticket scanner” by Matthew Hurst. CC BY-SA 2.0.


  1. I boarded a flight once and when the GA scanned my pass, a big “Do Not Allow To Board” appeared on the screen. She just hit a button and waived me through. I’ve heard that pattern of beeps for other passengers on different flights.

    An other time, I accidentally scanned the BP of my initial flight instead of the connection flight, but the GA caught it right away and had me re-scan the correct ticket.

  2. “I’m trying to decide if I should send thems a letter.” You have got to be kidding me. And she is a safety professional?? I hope nothing in her job requires proper grammar or, you know, English.

  3. This happened to me in Brazil during the World Cup. Got on the wrong plane. They realized this about 30 seconds before they started to taxi and apologized profusely.

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