i’m leaving on a jet plane (well, a craptastic 747, one of the few that have personal device entertainment, but oddly enough no power plugs to keep said personal device charged) tomorrow and thought i’d try using the updated United app to check in, the one that has the fancypants passport scanning feature.
as a long-time United flyer, they’ve had my passport in their database for years (the passport information always shows up in the app when i want to check in). they already know me — my passport has been scanned at kiosks and verified by airport agents countless times — so it didn’t ask me to take a picture. well, fine, i thought. no biggie, i guess i won’t try the new feature out after all.
but like many trips to countries that don’t require a visa for US citizens, it didn’t issue boarding passes, requiring a manual in-person passport/visa check. (that happened to me even just a couple weeks ago when i was headed to Malta. it’s actually quite common, i’ve discovered over the years, but when it does [correctly] give you a boarding pass, it’s like winning the lottery!)
well, i said to myself, “self, maybe if you can get it to take a picture of your passport it will reverify things and you will actually get a boarding pass.” during the check-in process you can choose to replace your existing passport information or add a new one. choosing either option will take you through the scanning steps. pretty straightforward — if you’ve ever done mobile deposit, it’s exactly the same. just line up the passport in the template, except unlike the bank apps i’ve used, it snaps a picture automagically and reads the data at the bottom.
except when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. not a single piece of information that it read was correct!
alas, i did hit cancel and rescanned the page, and it got everything correct this time. when you tap Continue from the screen above, it sends your data to a third-party vendor that verifies the information. it took a couple minutes, but it returned me back to the passport screen with my details filled in. easy-peasy, but it still didn’t get me a mobile boarding pass — same reason as every other time.
oh well. clearly this just takes the place of scanning your passport at a kiosk or having an agent enter your information, but it appears there has been no change to the way they check whether or not you need a visa. you’d think by now they would, at least for American citizens, have a list of visa-free travel countries, but i guess not! (Timatic schmimatic?)
i do expect that this passport import feature would be a one-time only thing, since they now have your information and do not need to re-verify it, but hey, next time you’re on an international United flight, give it a shot and see how well it reads yours! (good luck!)