How do you use a cell phone boarding pass at the metal detector?

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Cell phones are gradually replacing boarding passes, with increasing numbers of U.S. airports encouraging passengers to hold up the screen of their cell phone (or Blackberry, iPhone, or similar device) under the airport security scanner, rather than show a paper boarding pass.

When we recently blogged about this trend, one of our readers, Mike, wisely pointed out that before you walk through the scanner, airports usually require that you put your cell phone in the bin.

"So how do you show your boarding pass to the TSA agent when it is on the x-ray machine belt?" Mike asked.

Great question!

We asked a TSA spokesperson, and here's the answer:

"Currently, airports that accept paperless boarding passes will ask passengers to show their boarding pass in front of the checkpoint where all boarding passes and IDs are checked. In some airports, as passengers approach the metal detector, they may be instructed to divest everything for X-ray but their cell phone. Then passengers will approach the metal detector, show their boarding pass on their cell phone to the security officer, and then backtrack to put the phone in a bin for X-ray screening."

Another mystery solved.

Airports that are testing this technology include Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, D.C. (Reagan), Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis, Orange County, Calif., San Antonio, New York (LaGuardia and Newark), and Seattle.

To recap, here's an example of how the procedure works with one airline, Delta: You register your cell phone number with to receive a text message with a boarding pass bar code. Then hold up the screen of your cell phone under the airport security scanner, rather than show a paper boarding pass. (As always, you have to present a government-issued photo I.D. too.) Delta is testing the service at LaGuardia Airport.

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