By 2020, all Chinese airlines are expected to use electronic boarding passes, and China has become the first country to set such a clear goal.
The passenger check-in process will gradually shift out of airports in China, according to a forecast by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Currently, no country in the world has achieved the full use of electronic boarding passes. Last year, the off-airport check-in rate in China was 50 percent, according to the IATA.
From 2017 to 2020, if all airlines in China used e-boarding passes, instead of paper boarding passes, it would help the airlines save 7.83 billion yuan (.25 billion) in costs. Meanwhile, it would save 4.27 million tons of paper, as one boarding pass uses 0.25 grams of paper, said an official of IATA in Beijing.
"I'm very confident in the growth potential of the paperless market in the aviation industry, as it would help airlines save a lot of costs. Electronic boarding will become a standard," said Hou Kan, regional director of airport, passenger, cargo and security of IATA North Asia.
"Passengers could check-in online, on their mobile phones, through phone calls, or biometrically in the future. This online check-in process would also provide more opportunities for airlines to promote value-added services, such as hotels and seat class upgrading," he said.
Off-airport check-in rates are growing at domestic airports. In February, 65 percent of passengers who took flights of China Eastern Airlines checked in away from airports, higher than the 62 percent recorded in January, according to data from the IATA.
Meanwhile, the process of checking in luggage is likely to be moved out of airports as well. For example, some cities are suitable to build city air terminal buildings, and airlines can also cooperate with express delivery companies to provide door-to-door services to transfer luggage, IATA said.
The security checking process can be also moved out of airports. For instance, airlines can set up physical security checking spots in the cities, and build isolated transportation services from those areas to the airports, IATA said.
In August, the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued a statement, which said that this year, all the domestic airports with passenger throughput of over 30 million a year should completely enable information connection between airports, airlines, air traffic control and the authorities. Next year, all the airports with an annual passenger throughput between 10 million and 30 million should finish such work.
"We will follow the process of the use of electronic boarding passes by different airlines in China. We hope that the Chinese civil aviation industry will create more new standards, and provide models for other airports globally," Hou said.