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The days of the traditional airline ticket are numbered: to be precise, only 1,045 remain. The International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents most of the world's airlines, has set a deadline of the end of 2007 to abolish the paper ticket.

The days of the traditional airline ticket are numbered: to be precise, only 1,045 remain. The International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents most of the world's airlines, has set a deadline of the end of 2007 to abolish the paper ticket.

Iata has instructed its members that: "Effective 1 January 2008, only electronic tickets will be issued." The aim is to reduce costs by cutting out the expensive business of issuing, amending and reconciling paper tickets.

The first all-ticketless airline was easyJet, which began its no-frills services 10 years ago. The airline's founder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, says: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The legacy carriers have realised that they have a heavier cost structure than the low-cost carriers."

Paper tickets are almost unknown among no-frills airlines, and many traditional airlines already routinely issue "e-tickets" - some, including British Airways, charge a fee for passengers who insist on a paper version. But most e-tickets are restricted to a single carrier or airline alliance - which means the Iata deadline presents a big challenge. At present, a full-fare paper ticket between London and New York issued by, say, BA, can be used on any of the other six airlines who fly the route. The current "interline" system, where travellers can switch from one airline to another, is dependent upon exchanges of paper coupons. To remove this reliance, Iata is setting up "Interline Electronic Ticketing Hubs" that will allow airlines and agents to have common access to electronic ticket details.

While many domestic, European and long-haul journeys are routinely made using e-tickets, travellers occasionally have problems. In some parts of the world, immigration officials are reluctant to recognise printed travel itineraries as proof of the intention to depart after a short visit. In addition, airline systems are not always up to the task: a British visitor to St Petersburg travelling on Air France was reported to have been obliged to buy a full-fare printed ticket home when local airline staff declined to accept his e-ticket.

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