Background on 'airline tickets' (flight coupons)

Frankly, when I was first forced into traveling on an e-ticket (because Air Canada offered no other option), I hated the idea. I preferred the feeling of false empowerment I had when I wielded a pristine, cardstock, difficult-to-counterfeit, physical ticket in my hand.

But now, I'm a convert. I love e-tickets. I hate toting valuable objects -- currency, airline tickets, Social Security cards, car keys -- these can all cause big problems if they're lost. But e-tickets are virtual; there's nothing to lose but stress. (See this excellent writeup for more).

I'm going on a trip to Malaga, Spain soon. And I'll be using paper tickets because e-tickets were not available for my flights. Each flight coupon has a good deal of monetary value, as I'll explain below. Carrying these tickets around is like carrying thousands of dollars in cash. It makes me nervous.

One would think that since each segment's "ticket" (flight coupon) has the passenger's name on it, and since nobody can board an airplane without reservations and a government-issued ID matching the reservation name, (especially in this post-September-11th world), airline tickets themselves would have no value at all. And that furthermore, if they ever were stolen or lost, replacing them would simply be a matter of reissuing them. Like traveler's checks, or in some respects, credit cards. Not so.

Airline tickets have financial value because they can be traded in for other airline tickets bearing different names. Or for a check mailed to the address of the passenger, which could conceivably be intercepted by the thief. Furthermore, someone with a good fake ID bearing the passenger's name but another person's picture would allow someone else to travel using that flight coupon.

If you ask me, the madatory use of paper tickets is silly. I see no advantage to them -- neither to airlines, nor their customers.

So here's what to do if your airline ticket becomes lost or stolen

  1. First, look everywhere for them. Be sure they're really gone. You will feel like a total dumbass if you find them later.

  2. Call the issuing airline or your travel agent immediately and ask for further instructions. The steps which follow are those which apply in my specific case, but yours may be different. (I'm checking ahead; fortunately I haven't lost any flight coupons yet). It's quite possible that you would be even more screwed than me, because, as I understand it, some airlines just shrug and tell you that it's not their problem, and you'll have to buy a new ticket.

  3. United Airlines, in my case, has a policy that when a ticket is lost or stolen, the passenger will need to purchase a new ticket at the current (i.e., very likely very expensive) rate, and fill out a lost/stolen-ticket form.

  4. After 90 days, if the original ticket has not turned up, and not been used by anyone, it will be considered finally lost, and a refund will be issued to the passenger . . . minus a $200 "because-we-can" fee, for international travel.

  5. Refund will most likely be sent by mail to the original passenger's address. Just pray that the check doesn't get lost also.

Best advice: Never use paper tickets if you have the choice, and if you're forced to use paper tickets, keep them somewhere where nobody can take them without you knowing.

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