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Final Call for Paper Air Tickets

From Sunday, all domestic air-ticket agents will stop issuing paper tickets, to meet a deadline set by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for its members around the world.

The move, however, is unlikely to trouble China's agents or travelers, as electronic tickets are already widely used and accepted, business insiders have said.

Zhang Wei, who is in charge of ticket business at online travel agency, said e-tickets are now commonplace in China, thanks mostly to a campaign run in October 2006, by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

A survey of more than 13,000 people by found that e-tickets are now the preferred choice of about 97 percent of travelers.

"Very few people ask for paper tickets nowadays, although in the beginning there were some complaints from business travelers who needed paper tickets as proof of purchase so they could get refunds, and some others who were afraid of being swindled by rogue agents," a Beijing air-ticket agent surnamed He said.

However, most problems were eradicated or minimized after the CAAC introduced a new kind of receipt for buyers of e-tickets and launched a crackdown on unscrupulous agents, He said.

"People seem happy with the e-tickets, so I don't see there being any problems once paper tickets are officially withdrawn," she said.

For many travelers, e-tickets and self-service kiosks at airports are a boon.

"As long as you chose a reputable agency there is nothing to worry about. Buying an air ticket is so easy now," Liu Jun, a government official from Beijing, said.

But it is the airlines themselves that have benefited most from e-tickets.

The IATA has estimated the industry could save US$3 billion a year, or about US$9 per ticket, by switching to the electronic option.

Prior to the launch in 2004 of an IATA campaign to promote the use of e-tickets, their share of the market has risen from 18 percent to 93 percent, the association said on its website.

In China, the percentage is even higher, with the CAAC saying at least 95 percent of all air tickets sold last year were electronic ones.

However, paper tickets might not disappear altogether on Sunday.

According to a report last month by the Beijing Times, Zhang Baojian, IATA's regional vice president for north Asia, said 17 of the 82 foreign airlines that are part of the IATA's Billing and Settlement Plan and operate in China, cannot issue e-tickets in the country.

Also, due to technical difficulties, some smaller airports, including Jinggangshan and Xishuangbanna, are unable to issue e-tickets, online travel agency said.

(China Daily May 29, 2008)

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