If you fly on a particular airline more than once every month or two, download the airline’s app for a more seamless experience. 

One of the collateral benefits of traveling constantly this summer as a reporter covering everything from Donald Trump to Black Lives Matter was that it gave me a chance to try out all sorts of technologies I might otherwise have skipped.*

And one of the most useful of those technologies has been the smartphone apps for various airlines. These apps let users book travel, keep track of frequent flyer miles, and most importantly, check in digitally.

The experience isn’t seamless. I most frequently use Delta’s app — in part because I think it’s slightly better than other airlines, and in part because I think Delta is better than the other legacy carriers — but all of the airline apps I’ve used have occasionally crashed. Some of them also have a tendency to log me out if I haven’t used them recently, meaning I have to go digging around to find my login information.

And the stripped down experience of actually buying tickets with an app is not my favorite.


But the check in feature of these apps outweighs their flaws. If you haven’t done this yet, it’s easy: You just put in some basic information like your confirmation code and name, and it produces a digital boarding pass.

On an iPhone, the apps then have a button that lets you add the boarding pass to your Wallet, which is an app that’s a landing place for various tickets, among other things.

The result is that I usually just check in on my Uber ride to the airport. I don’t have to bother printing a boarding pass at home/work/the airport kiosk, and I’m far less likely to lose it along the way.

If you’ve traveled recently, the people who have their boarding passes on their phones — you see them at both security and at the gate — are probably using these apps. You can do all of this with airline websites, but the apps and their integration with Apple’s native Wallet app are more seamless.


Another benefit of getting the app is that they’ll sometimes send you notifications if you have a gate change, delay, or other scheduling issue. My experience getting notifications has been inconsistent — sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t — and I’m not sure why that is, but there have been times when they helped me get to the right gate more efficiently.

As a result, my de facto rule of thumb is this: If I use an airline more than a couple of times in a two month period, I get the app. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth cluttering up my phone. So, I have Delta, American, and United, but not Virgin or Southwest — even though I occasionally fly those last two airlines.

*Normally, traveling standby thanks to family in the airline business, I do things last minute and don’t get boarding passes until I’m about to walk on the plane.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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