What’s in my boarding pass barcode ?

Since more than 10 years passengers are used to the barcode imprinted on the traditional ticket boarding pass slip, the home printed boarding pass or the boarding pass displayed in the mobile app provided by the airline. To be more precise the 2004 IATA Passenger Service Conference approved Resolution 792 setting the BCBP (Bar Coded Boarding Pass) standard as part of the STB (Simplify The Business) program.

The barcode simplifies passenger handling as the barcode can be read automatically by barcode readers along the passenger journey for bag-drop, security check area access and boarding. It significantly reduces the error rate to the time before barcode and eventually saved millions of Euros/Dollars due to mishandling and delays. Today we see self-boarding gates that remove the need for an agent, though business and first class passenger are still welcomed by a human gate agent. Btw, the magnetic stripe on the back of the old tickets expired in 2010.

Old Passenger Ticket without barcode (Image Public Domain)

The BCBP standard defines PDF417 (public domain standard, no fees or licenses) as the barcode symbol format as well defines the encoded content. The content in the barcode contains the same information as printed on the standard boarding pass, though some airlines omit information on the self-printed version in favor of simplicity, some extra info is optionally encoded.

2017-10-07 06_47_41-Boarding-Pass Barcode Aztec QR Generator

Sample PDF 417 barcode

M1SMITH/JOHN          EHJK345 FRASINLH 3456 280C015A0001 100

The standard covers 3 additional barcodes that are not used for printing, but used for mobile apps, these are Aztec and QR Code.

The encoding is straight foward using fix-length fields and the code can carry up to 4 legs of a journey.

Element Size Sample Remark
Format Code 1 M Always “M”
Number of legs encoded 1 1
Passenger Name 20
Electronic Ticket Indicator 2 E
Operating carrier PNR Code 7
Origin IATA Code 3 FRA Airport Code
Destination IATA Code 3 SIN Airport Code
Operating carrier IATA Code 3 LH Airline
Flight Number 5 3456
Date of Flight 3 280 Julian Date
Compartment Code 1 B First, Business, Economy
Seat Number 4 25A
Check-in Sequence Number 5 0012
Passenger Status 1 00

These are the mandatory fields, there are additional optional fields and blocks for baggage info, document info, frequent flyer number or security data.

To be noted, the IATA PADIS XML message standard shall be used for the exchange of BCBP data between systems, defined in Resolution 783 – Passenger and Airport Data Interchange Standards.

I like to add also, the printed barcode is the current common nominator for international travel, but there are initiatives on the way to simplify the passenger journey even further with newer technology such as biometric ID’s and identity management, eg. IATA OneIdentity Initiative.

In the next post we will assemble a simple Android application to read the boarding pass barcode. Stay tuned.

Disclaimer: The information provided here might not be correct or complete. It is for educational purpose only. For reliable information please refer to the IATA manuals.

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