Scan Here

A couple of things caught my eye during my all-too-short trip from CPH to Munich – a city I haven’t been to since I was a little kid. Both barcode related, one at a train station, the other at the aiport.

At Marienplatz, one of the city’s main stations (and I’m guessing, other stations, too), the standard ticket machine had an unexplained “barcode scanner”, placed and marked prominently in the center of the (typically messy) interface. There was no explanation of what might be expected to be scanned, but the ticket I had just purchased had a 2d barcode on the back, so I tried that, got a satisfied beep – and was told on the main touchscreen the same information that was printed on the ticket. (purchase location, zones covered, price, validity). I couldn’t quite figure out why it was there, what it was useful for. Maybe it also scans other things? Season tickets, maybe? Perhaps it’s not specifically meant for passengers? Why was it marked with an extra sticker taht felt out of place, even though it looked pretty built in? Answer on a postcard, please.

On my way back via Munich Airport, I came across something else I hadn’t seen before. The concept of passengers checking in online and printing their own boarding passes is now commonplace; using a mobile device with the boarding pass (and more importantly, the barcode) on it is increasingly normal, too, even if it still occasionally draws a scowl from security. But generally, you have to hand your barcode (whichever medium it happens to be in) to a person, who scans it, double checks you are who you’re supposed to be, and then waves you onwards.

[für Gäste mit Barcode-Bordkarte / for passengers with barcode-boarding pass]

But in Munich, boarding my Lufthansa flight back to Copenhagen, I encountered something new: there was a queue in which I could hand my barcode to a stewardess, as normal, but there was also a (shorter, faster moving) line marked Quick Boarding. I hung back and watched a bit, carefully inspecting the screen above the line and the various instructions. It turns out that it was a line where each passenger could scan their own boarding pass, the barrier would open, and you could board the flight, without any human interaction. It wasn’t clear if this would only work with printed passes or also with an iphone (it worked fine), nor if this was something only for special passengers (whatever that might mean – but no, it worked fine for me, too).

Having brought up the barcode on my iphone, i turned it upside down and placed it on the indicated scanning pad (whereupon the iphone probably got confused and rotated things several times), and after a short pause, the LCD screen (“please watch display”, see above) flashed up my name, and the barrier opened. There was an awkward pause between scanning, the screen changing, and then the barrier opening – it wasn’t clear whether it had scanned properly or not – but it all worked more-or-less smoothly.

There’s something odd about getting on a plane without having to talk with (or at least nod at) a person, or have your ID checked at the gate. Strangely 21st century. Not sure why, but there is. But just like online check in, I’m sure we’ll get used to it soon enough.

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