There was once a time -- and a reassuring time it was -- when you could head to the airport with your ticket in hand. Sure, you could lose it, but if it stayed in your pocket or purse, you were pretty sure you had a seat. Maybe a decent meal on board, too -- but that's another story.
Both stories, however, come down to money. According to one analysis, it costs an airline $10 for every paper ticket it issues, prints, and mails. That includes all the staff time and salaries it takes to help passengers book their flights. The solution: get passengers to do it themselves over the Internet -- saving the airline $9 of those $10 per ticket.
If you can call it a ticket, for going the paperless route produces no ticket at all. To ensure that passengers went along with the program, many carriers began charging them a fee if they absolutely insisted on a tactile ticket.
And pretty soon, passengers can insist all they want and still not get one, for the Washington Times newspaper reports that airlines worldwide will eliminate paper tickets for good some time next year.
So forget those comforting documents in pockets or purses. Don't bother checking your mail or going to a ticket office. Your reservation -- your assurance that you have a seat -- will exist only in cyberspace. The airline will send you a confirmation by e-mail, but that's precious little comfort if the airport computers go down, or if you don't have a computer or a printer at home.
Remember the Beatles' tune and this refrain: "She's got a ticket to ride . . ."?
Oh, no she doesn't. She'll soon have just that e-mail print-out, if she's lucky. Can't make much of a song out of THAT!