Paperless life – Have iPad, will travel

Recently, I had the good fortune to be invited by some friends to help them out at E3 in LA. As an inhabitant of Scotland, this would inevitably entail a plane ride across the Atlantic ocean, and this gave me an idea. I would try to get from the UK to LA with an absolute minimum of paperwork. Just my passport, iPhone 3GS and iPad 3G. How hard could it be?


Have iPad, will travel

The Glasgow to London leg was, as could be expected, very easy. No bureaucratic nonsense or overly fastidious security operatives assuming I wanted to invade somewhere. The irony of this is that GLA is one of the few airports in recent times to actually be physically attacked by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, whereby the local populace stuck the boot in and stated “Glasgow doesn’t accept this. This is Glasgow; we’ll set aboot ye.” This isn’t a normal city, in case you didn’t already know this.

Arrival at London’s famous Heathrow Airport was not without incident as we were led through the bowels of the airport by incompetent flight attendants, setting off security alarm after security alarm as we muddled our way through. Presenting an iPhone as a boarding card even after that was accepted as normal and I was allowed to pass through into the waiting area for my connection. Buying my Duty Free allocation was another step of the journey that would require a boarding pass, and this time I elected to use my iPad. The staff were a little perplexed, not knowing if this was an acceptable way of doing business, but when I enlarged the barcode with a pinch and held it under the scanner, they jumped back in amazement when the till went beep and told them my flight details. This was the first time any of the staff had seen anyone make a completely paperless transaction in their shop; the largest duty-free shop in the fifth busiest airport in the world. It won’t be their last.

Again, using the iPad to get onto the plane was simplicity itself and there was still enough battery life left in the iPad to keep me entertained the entire flight to LA. Arriving in LA, I was required to fill in an immigration form, which was the first piece of paper I’d needed to handle the entire trip.

This trip was brought back to me today when I went to open a bank account with HSBC, a bank with only five branches in Scotland that gets great reports of their online paperless banking, for my new business and I did so by bringing all my documentation on my iPad, with my trusty passport for proof of who I was, and a letter from Barclaycard as proof of address, but even that was the wrong one and I used a PDF from my bank in the end. All this was handled through GoodReader, which enabled me to mail the bank’s business manager the relevant docs during the meeting. Add this to the paperless accountant I’ve found and you can see my new company’s philosophy.

Paperless is here; you just need to have the balls to try it.

Jared Earle is a writer, photographer and systems administrator. You can find him on Twitter most of the time.

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  • That’s really cool that you were the first customer at that Duty Free shop to show an electronic boarding pass. And on your iPad no-less. Impressive.

  • Did you use ESTA before you went? AFAICT it’s equivalent to the I94-W, but I could never work out whether you still needed to fill in the paper version as well. Last time I tried, I got told I was ineligible for it as I drove down rather than flying.

    • Yes, I used the ESTA site to fill in the Visa Waiver. I printed a copy of it to PDF, just in case, but they never asked to see it. My arrival at LAX was the most hassle-free US arrival to date. I wonder if it’s because it was E3 or if LA is always like that.

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  • Mark

    Did you go paperless on the way back? If so how did US security handle it?


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  • In which @jearle travels to LA and opens a business account at HSBC armed only with his iPhone/iPad and passport.

  • Roy

    Quite surprised that it went so smoothly. I’ve always found that big organisations have a problem with anything new until they get confirmation in triplicate from above that it’s okay to do things slightly differently.

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  • Mike

    This is really impressive, however, a couple of years ago i’ve been traveling through eastern europe, and i got pulled over for speeding i guess, in west Romania. I’ve realised that I have forgotten my wallet with all the papers (ID’s, driver licence, etc.) at the office where i had my last meeting, wich was 200 miles from where i was stopped. When i realized that, i called my partners at that office and they scanned and emailed me the papers. Surprisingly, the police officer was ok with this, since he accepted the papers scaned on my computer screen. I got a ticket for speeding and was asked to try not to forget my papers again, especially when i leave the country. He’s english wasn’t perfect, though we did manage to communicate. I’ve done it a few times again in Romania, in the next years, and all went well. Btw, i’m a MAC user. Is it an Apple thing? 😉