1. The Bar Code
The International Air Transport Association mandated in 2005 that all 240 member airlines have to use boarding passes embedded with bar codes rather than magnetic strips—making it possible to print them at home and ushering in the era of paperless travel.
2. Flight Time
The practice of padding flight times to account for unpredictable tarmac traffic peaked around 2010. Airlines have since scaled back. This JFK-LAX flight went from six hours, four minutes in 2005 to six hours, 40 minutes in 2010. It’s now six hours, 15 minutes.
The TSA’s PreCheck expedited security program continues its rapid expansion, adding new partner airlines and airports to its ranks. If you’re a member, scan your boarding pass to see if you’ve been granted PreCheck clearance for a given flight.
4. Flight Number
In general, the higher the number, the more likely you’ll be flying with a code-share partner. Historically, American flights in the 2700 to 4500 range are largely operated by American Eagle. United flights between 3255 and 6548 are often on ExpressJet planes.
5. In-Flight Wi-Fi
Sky-high connectivity is becoming an industry standard. Almost all of American’s planes have Wi-Fi. Virgin America and AirTran’s fleets are completely wired. JetBlue will soon introduce an ultrafast system. It’ll be free—for a short while, at least.
6. Seat Number and Status
At American Airlines, just 20 percent of passengers represent 70 percent of the company’s revenue. That means the more perks (priority check-in and boarding; waived fees; upgraded seats) the closer you are to the front of the plane.