With each visit to the airport we contribute to one of the most horrendous instances of paper wastage in this country. This is because every passenger has to show two types of documents to enter an airport: one, an identity proof and two, an e-ticket to prove they are indeed the passenger.

Over these last few days I have increasingly been obsessed about enabling our airports reduce paper waste by addressing this need for a print-out. The immediate reason for this was that some airline companies have begun charging an outrageous Rs 50 to print an e-ticket at the airport.

The airline companies have defined acceptable reasons to charge for a printout, terming it a “reissue of tickets” and stating that they have to keep the airline counters manned especially to service this need of the passengers. Some even go to suggest that that they are reducing paper wastage by charging for print-outs.

These are only feel-good excuses and far from the reality of the situation as the need for the print out is not something that is caused by the passengers. The need to have a physical ticket or itinerary is a mandate from the Airports Authority and the CISF, who are in charge of the airport security.

In simple, every passenger is to carry a physical document to prove that they are indeed entering the airport with the intention of travel in addition to proving their identity. This makes it a legal need to carry a print-out in this time if electronic tokens and tickets.

So that is what caused this issue in the first place. In the past, the airlines were issuing physical tickets to every passenger – a booklet of sorts, that mentioned the ticket and itinerary details, along with a bunch of other air travel related information. Even in the current day, if you purchase a ticket from the airline counter, they provide the printed copy of the ticket along with the receipts.

Most consumers today opt to buy their tickets online – preferring to make the process convenient to themselves, while making the airlines reduce costs and avoid travel agent commissions. By adopting to book tickets online, we the consumers are knowingly or unknowingly helping the airlines to reduce their work, and clearly increase their profit margins.

And where does this lead to? If you do not have a printer handy, you will be charged for the print out by the airlines: not charged Rs 3 or 5 which are regular commercial rates, but a whopping Rs 50 because they can, and you have no other go. Indeed, if you are taking one of the early morning and late evening flights and you do not have a print-out with you – you have no other go than shell out whatever amount the airline decides to fleece out of you.

If it is indeed an issue with manning the booths, why is it that our airlines do not adopt simple ways to solve this issue? How about moving some self-check-in kiosks outside the entry gate, so that some people could help themselves by printing a boarding pass? Or to take the thought further, how about allowing these kiosks to print the basic itinerary details to serve as the essential print?

Yet, that is not the real problem at hand. The issue that we should look at together and help resolve is the need for a physical ticket to enter the airport. In this day where Indian Railways and progressive state bus services like KSRTC allow e-ticket verification on phones and other digital screens, clearly the airports seeking a physical print seems prehistoric. How difficult is it for them to confirm the itinerary on a digital screen, since every passenger would easily have access to a phone and most to a tablet or laptop?

So why are the airports requiring us to carry physical tickets or print outs to gain entry? Other than some obscure reference in the Official Secrets Act which was intended to keep locals away from airports during the colonial era, the only other reason is security. That, and because nobody has given this part any serious thought or attention.

We have this unique trait where every passenger is seen off by a large posse of family and friends. This was always true of railway stations, and more true of airports. This Railway Station Culture is now pretty much non-existent, other than in the government and bureaucratic circles, where with every neta or babu travelling, there is a large mass of supporters and juniors seeing or welcoming them.

The total life of the e-ticket printout that we carry to airports is two minutes. The airlines do not need it, the check-in counter does not need it, the boarding gate does not need it. The only one to need this physical print is the CISF personnel guarding the entrance to the airport to allow us access. Don’t blame them for they are only following orders and executing the rules.

Each time we have to enter the airport to take a flight, we show this paper print-out to the CISF personnel who peers at it intently, stares at our identity proof, and then studies the itinerary yet again. And just when you think something is wrong, suddenly nods his/her head, and let’s you through. And that is it. A total life of two minutes.

That two minutes for some airlines is worth Rs 50, and clearly for the passenger a lot more – for without the print you would not be let through to reach the check-in counters. Yet that two minutes also leads to tens of thousands of paper print outs across every airport in the country. Address this one issue, and we would have done one huge bit for Mother Earth.

Even railway stations have figured better ways of handling this situation. They have something called platform tickets that allow non-passengers to gain access to the railway platforms. And those that break the rule have to pay a huge fine. How difficult is it for the airports to adopt a similar format and at the same time get rid of a colossal wastage of paper?

Most airports in India do not allow valid passengers to leave the airport once they have entered the departure terminal. There is quite a bit of red-tape involved if you indeed had to step out after entering inside. Yet this may indeed be the best way to solve this unnecessary issue.

The simplest way forward would be for airports to put up prominent placards and announcements stating that only passengers with valid tickets are to enter the terminal. More importantly, announce and impose a hefty fine on non-passengers that enter the airport – for they have to leave via the same gate. After all, unlike railways, it is not like non-ticket holders can hop on to the planes and travel as soon as they are let inside the departure terminal!

Airports could continue to check the identity of everybody that is trying to gain access to the airport terminals (we will save that debate for another day). Yet that is all the CISF personnel should worry about at the front gate: verify the identity of the person entering the airport. And while they are at it, they may want to install some security scanners at the entrance gates too.

There are many more initiatives that the airports should indeed take up to move towards a paperless set-up, but this one does come across as the simplest and easiest solution. Announce this, run it as a campaign, make it your green initiative, whatever it needs but we have to make this work. This one small change would reduce wastage of hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper every single day.

An Appeal:

As mentioned in the Nakul Shenoy Newsletter – September 2012 Issue, I will be reaching out to all my corporate friends and contacts to push this change in the way our airports function. I ask that you too leverage your influence to help make an impact.

I present a quick summary here of the actions that the various parties can take to contribute to a greener planet vis-a-vis Indian airports:

The Airline companies can help reduce paper wastage, by:

  • Issue boarding passes at their airport offices instead of e-ticket printouts
  • Move self check-in kiosks outside the airport entry gate

The Airport authorities can help reduce paper wastage, by:

  • Enable digital displays of the itinerary or ticket at the gate
  • Removing the need for ticket/itinerary verification at the entry gates
  • Mandate only valid passengers enter the airport by imposing heavy fines on non-passengers that gain entry
  • Examine the need to allow genuine visitors to the terminal by allowing paid entry, akin to platform tickets

Together we can make a difference. And we will.

Nakul

5 Comments

  1. Option 1 – The airlines can install a printer that prints out just a business card sized printout for itinerary, like an ATM mini-statement. That much info should be enough. Will instantaneously save a lot of paper.
    Option 2, the entry to the airport can have a keyboard where you either type in your PNR or scan a barcode from your smartphone and it shows the full e-ticket on a screen to the CISF guard. All they have to do is cross-verify with your id-proof.

  2. Writing this would surely get you appreciation. To get it done, you would need to campaign with the MP’s to endorse your petition to the Civil Aviation Minister. That should do it. Alternatively a PIL.

  3. Nakul, I read your article in the Economic Times today – I am so glad someone has brought this up ! It has annoyed me for a long time. I write a blog on sustainability and eco living – this move is so simple but you are right can save tons of paper.

    There is a website called http://www.change.org where you can start a campaign and gather public support for an initiative like this to lobby the civil aviation minister to make this simple change.

    I’d be happy to help if you want to go ahead with this.

  4. Fundamental issue is the lack of common sense in governance – private and public in India. This is overall reflection of the psyche of India environment and education system which does not emphasize and reward taking the direct approach, removing hurdles, thinking through various scenarios (analytical skills), etc. It is pervasive in the way things are done everywhere – most corporate offices have such brain dead rules too designed to inconvenience 99.9999% of people to potentially prevent the *dumb* 0.0001% who cannot even think of simple ways that exist to circumvent the rules. Not that similar brain dead procedures do not exist in other countries (USA for example) but it is usually restricted to very few places.

  5. Your petition and articles worked 🙂

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