Reading Flight Boarding Passes / Tickets

Female Abroad

When it comes to flying you will either get an electronic boarding pass or a paper ticket and both of these contain a lot of information that most people don’t know how to read. Below are two photos that I’ve pointed out the different information on. Some of it I’m sure will be obvious and some of it less so. The top photos is of a paper boarding pass and the bottom one is of an electronic boarding pass which is become more popular. If you do online check in, you are more likely to get the online version.

In the photo above there are two passes, the top one has been flagged for additional security where as the bottom one has not. When you compare the two it is very obvious to see how United flags their additional screening people but if you didn’t know what to look for or you didn’t have something to compare it to then you wouldn’t know.

The information on both versions is pretty much the exact same; lets get into what it all means.

PNR / Record Locator / Confirmation: this is what the airline needs to pull up your booking information in their system. Depending on how you book your ticket this might not match the confirmation you get if you book through a travel agency as they will give you their system confirmation number which will be different.

Name: person whose name is on the ticket. Sometimes it will show a middle name, sometimes it will be last name / first name / salutation, and sometimes it will be first name / last name and may include a salutation following. How its listed depending on the airline. If you do give your middle name, it will usually show on the airlines system but not on the boarding pass. Normally domestic flights if you have a middle name on your ID but not on the travel documents then most security checks will waive you through but they are a lot stricter for international. Either type of flights, it is recommended that your travel document name matches your ID as any airline can refuse you if it does not match.

Type of flight: some airlines will show if it domestic, trans border, or international and some don’t

Where to / from (city name): not everyone can read a city code so most airlines will spell out the city or the airport name (usually done if you are flying to a city with multiple airports). The departure airport is normally listed first and the arrival airport follows.

Where to / from (city code): every airport has a digit code assigned to it by IATA (air industry overseeing organization). Most make sense (ex. LAX = Los Angeles, JFK = JFK Airport) or they might be based on former names of the cities (ex. BOM = Mumbai SGN = Ho Chi Min) and then you get Canadian airport codes that don’t make any sense (ex. YVR = Vancouver, YYZ = Toronto, YUL = Montreal) but all start with Y.

Flight Number: The first two digits of this generally alpha-numeric number dictates the airline (looking at the photos above UA = United Airlines, WS = West Jet). The following numbers contain more information:

- if the number is odd then the flight is headed south

- if the number is even then the flight is headed north

- normally if the number is 4+ digits (not including the first two that dictate the airline) then it’s usually a code share

Gate: this is where you will board the plane

Date: when the plane is leaving


- Boarding: when the airline will start calling boarding classes

- Depart: time that the flight will take off (based on local time of the departure city)

- Arrive: time that the flight will arrive (based on local time of the arrival city)

Boarding Group / Zone: the area of the plane you are sitting in and what order you will be called in. Generally numbers will be called in order, starting with 1. Usually Zone 1 will be first class / business, Zone 2 business / premium / exit rows, Zone 3+ will be the back of the plane towards the front (ex. Zone 3 will be the very back / middle, Zone 4 is middle / just behind premium). Depending on the size of the plane, there will usually be more boarding zones. Not all airlines do these zones / groups but a lot more are starting to do these as they are finding that it make boarding quicker as well as cleaner.

Carrier: this is the airline and normally they will list the one you booked with. However if there is a code share (when a flight is operated by one airline but a different airline owns seats on the plane) then it might show a different name or even denote that the flight is operated by one but code shared by another. Why this is done and what it means it will be talked about in a different article

Ticket #: this string of 11 to 14 numbers is another way that the airline can pull your information in case you don’t have a PNR / record locator / confirmation.

Barcode: this is what security will scan to make sure that the ticket matches / belongs to you