Traveling with the Apple Watch

Southwest Apple Watch Boarding Pass
Boarding Pass for Southwest on Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is creating a huge buzz right now as supply levels are increasing and more and more pre-order customers are receiving their watches.  Being the tech geek that I am, I ordered mine back in april and I received my watch about three weeks ago.  Let’s take a look at how it integrated into my trip to Kansas City and what it’s like traveling with the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Travel Apps

Obviously for the watch to have any usefulness within the travel environment, companies need to develop apps that have a watch component to them.  At the time of writing, non-native watch apps are heavily reliant on their iPhone counterparts, so overall functionality is fairly limited.  American Airlines, United, and Delta all have apps designed to make use of the watch.  Southwest, my carrier of choice for this trip, did not.

Thankfully a dedicated watch app is not a requirement because Apple Watch does have built-in Passbook functionality, so boarding passes that integrate with Passbook will also appear on the watch.

Agencies like TripIt, FlightAware and FlightStats all have watch compatible apps, again with limited functionality often limited to merely displaying information about a flight, or your next trip.  With the new Watch SDK on the horizion at the upcoming Apple Developer Conference, however, we should see additional features available on the watch in the near future.

Going Through Security with Apple Watch

Like mobile boarding passes on your phone screen, the Apple Watch can be used to display the pass via a dedicated airline app or via Passbook.  Present the watch at Security, hold your wrist upside down over the pass scanner, and you’ll be good to go.  No hassle there whatsoever.  The TSA agent at SMF thought it was rather cool and seemed somewhat jealous of my new gadget.

Due to my Global Entry membership, I have TSA Pre privileges.  There were initial reports that TSA Pre eligible travelers were not required to remove the watch while going through security, but I can confirm that the watch does set off the metal detector and you will be required to take it off.  A slight inconvenience, but not a game changer.  Yes, I discovered this the hard way after going through the scanner three times.  Do yourself a favor and just take off the watch once TSA checks your ID.

Boarding with Apple Watch

This is where things get tricky.  As I said, for this inaugural watch-toting trip, I flew on Southwest.  The boarding pass scanners at SMF sit on the table top and have maybe an inch of clearance between the scanner eye and the bottom of the reader.  They’re perfect for paper passes and phones, but there is absolutely no way to use your watch unless you remove it from your wrist.  At that point you’d have to re-enter your watch’s pass code, re-navigate to the pass, and then scan.  You’re better off just sticking with a paper copy or your phone.

The situation was the same in LAS, with the older and thinner profile scanner.  I was a little upset at this point and tweeted my displeasure to Southwest.

On the return flights from MCI via DEN, however, I discovered that they had monitor-mounted scanners at the gate, perfect for wrist boarding.  Scanning the watch display worked flawlessly, although I felt that the duration between bringing the pass up on my watch and the watch deciding to turn off the display could be elongated.  It’s a little awkward when you arrive at the front of the line and look down only to see you have to unlock the watch again.  I suppose this could be mitigated by changing the Apple Watch’s settings to always display the last used app when you raise your wrist.  Your mileage may vary.

Final Thoughts

Is the Apple Watch a necessity for travel?  No.  Does it help make life a little easier?  Absolutely.  I’d like to see Southwest develop an app of their own, and I’d like to see some of these flight track apps provide more useful, actionable information on the watch face.

Do you have an Apple Watch?  What has been your experience while traveling with it?  Drop a comment and let me know!



Christopher is a bonafide pizza snob, and loves spontaneous adventures to wherever the skies deem fit.

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1 Response

  1. June 9, 2015

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