No one wants to be the person holding up the boarding process because of technical difficulties.
Generally speaking, we like to err on the side of caution and suggest you print out your boarding pass, even if you already checked in online and have a mobile version on your phone.
We especially recommend printing boarding passes if you’re taking connecting flights, as the longer you’re in transit, the more likely your phone battery will run low or die completely. There’s also the consideration of border control if you’re traveling internationally — sometimes border agents might ask to see your boarding pass, and it’s usually easier to hand them the paper version rather than your whole phone.
On the other hand, acquiring a printed boarding pass requires you to either check in at a kiosk or a ticketing desk (unless you’re flying on an airline that lets you print boarding passes out at home). That can add time to your overall airport process, and if you’re someone who likes to cut it close with airport arrivals, this might not be an option for you. If you’re already checking a bag, though, you should go ahead and ask the agent to print out a copy of your boarding pass. A printed boarding pass is also a good place for an agent to stick your checked bag receipt — if you’re using a mobile pass, you’ll have to hang onto the receipt separately.
There’s nothing wrong with a mobile boarding pass, and there are times when it might be more practical to use them. For example, if you’re taking just one short flight, you’re not checking a bag, and your phone battery is fully charged, a mobile boarding pass shouldn’t be an issue. And if you later decide you want a printed one anyway, you could always ask the gate agent prior to boarding, or you could ask the front desk in your airline’s lounge.
Whether you opt for a printed or mobile boarding pass, there’s one very important tip you should follow: always take a picture (or screenshot) of your boarding pass (but remember to never share it on social media). In the event your frequent flier miles are not credited to your account properly, you may need to submit a boarding pass as evidence you took the flight. This is another situation where a paper boarding pass might come in handy — paper boarding passes typically provide more information than digital ones, including your e-ticket number and booking code (PNR). Mobile boarding passes store that information inside the QR code, which you can’t access without a scanner.
When it comes to air travel, we like to play it safe, which is why we recommend printing out your boarding pass, too.