If you’re a frequent or even an occasional flyer, you may have heard warnings that you shouldn’t discard your airline boarding pass in public places because thieves could get personal information off the pass. In a recent USA Today Travel video, an investigator showed travelers how, with a simple mobile phone app, he could scan the QR codes on their boarding passes and reveal personal and flight information. The travelers in the video found that scary, but can boarding pass information really put your identity at risk?
While every airline uses a different system for boarding passes, the information on the pass typically includes the traveler’s name, phone number, frequent flyer number, booking reference number, and flight information such as the gate, arrival time, etc. There is no payment information, home address, or other information that’s particularly valuable to an identity thief.
According to experts, someone could use this information to log into your frequent flyer account. (They would probably use the “Forgot Your Password” option, so always choose good security questions, not one with an answer that someone could find out from your social media profiles.) From your frequent flyer account, they could change or cancel your upcoming flights, switch your seats, or take over your account by changing the password. If your account had a stored credit card, it’s conceivable that a thief could use your account to book travel, but they would still need a photo ID to board an actual flight.
Bottom line: it isn’t likely that a used boarding pass will cause you trouble, so if you dropped it in the airport or forgot it in the seatback pocket on the plane, don’t panic. In a recent article, travel expert and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott told Snopes that in 20 years of working on travel-related consumer cases, he’s never heard of personal information being compromised from a boarding pass. That said, it’s always best not to leave personal information lying around in any form, so why not just take your boarding pass home and shred it? And don’t invite trouble by posting photos of your boarding pass on social media. Boarding passes have not been express tickets to identity theft so far, but, there’s a first time for everything.