15 September 2016

Do not take photos of your boarding pass

Steve Hui from iflyflat.com.au decided to see how easy it was to obtain personal details from an innocent snap of a boarding pass. The results were frightening.
Steve Hui

YOUR boarding pass contains far, far more information than you might think. 
It doesn’t just display your name and where you’re flying, but gives people access to some highly confidential information, as well as providing the ability to modify or cancel your booking.

Just how easy is it to gain access to someone’s information?

I come across posts like the one below everyday. Pictures in which people show off a flashy boarding pass emblazoning their name and destination. Some may even be flying first or business class, so they want to share the excitement.

There are some very key pieces of information printed on most boarding cards: your name, your ticket number or booking reference, and a barcode.

On August 30, someone posted a photo of their boarding pass, so I decided to investigate how much information could be accessed. (The vital details have been blurred for the passenger’s sake.)

I decided to see how far I could go with this image posted online on August 30. Picture: Steve HuiSource:Supplied
The image was posted by an Australian Virgin Australia passenger, who was flying co-share on Delta Airlines.
Delta publishes an astonishing amount of information, including the E-Ticket number, booking reference, frequent flyer number and even how many bags you have checked in. I decided to test just how vulnerable the system was, and headed to the Delta website.
Under “Manage My Booking” all that is needed is a passenger name and an E-Ticket number or booking reference.
As all that was on the boarding card, I was quickly able to log into the booking and see all the passenger’s details.

A lot of information could be accessed on Delta’s website. Picture: Steve HuiSource:Supplied
From that information, I could view the passenger’s entire itinerary, and see when and where they were going to travel.

Details also included their seat numbers, frequent flyer details and ticket numbers.

It didn’t end there. Picture: Steve HuiSource:Supplied

Taking it even further, it was easy to see a full breakdown of the fare paid, including the date of purchase and the last four digits of the credit card used.

The personal details kept rolling in. Picture: Steve HuiSource:Supplied

People with malicious minds could use that information to potentially cancel or change your flights, change your seat or cause other issues.


Even scarier than this is what can come up on a barcode.

In this example is another social media photo, where the passenger has attempted to cover up the important information.

This passenger hid her full name but left the barcode in full view. Picture: Steve HuiSource:Supplied

She has unknowingly left the barcode visible (which I’ve covered up), something even savvy travellers may commonly overlook.

The barcode contains basically all the information on the boarding pass, stored in a specially readable format.

You may think that airport computers are the only devices that can read this, but the truth is, anyone can read a barcode. There are dozens of online barcode readers that provide information based on a photo you upload.

In this case, I was able to retrieve all the passenger’s details without seeing the rest of the boarding card.

The text provided full name, flight number, route, booking reference, ticket number, frequent flyer number and more.

Accessing all this information is a lot easier than you may have thought, and there is a great risk associated with publishing uncensored images of boarding passes.

Not only can these details be used for identity theft purposes, but you can suffer major financial loss if someone were to use this method to take control of a frequent flyer account.

Barcode readers are easy to come by. Picture: Steve HuiSource:Supplied

It’s easy to see just how revealing these seemingly innocent pictures can be.

In a social world where we want to share everything instantly on a global scale with Facebook or Instagram.


Beware that the risk of identity theft is very high. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post images of boarding passes at all — if you want to show off that hard-earned business or first class ticket to the world, just be sure to cover up or blur out any vital information.

A much safer idea is to share pictures of you drinking champagne in the lounge or on board the plane.
It’s much more than just a boarding card, so be smarter and please take care.

Research carried out by Steve Hui, CEO of www.iflyflat.com.au — experts in optimising frequent flyer points to fly.

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