Brian.oco 0 Posting Whiz

I know that, technically speaking, airline stocks aren't technology stocks (although I can't think of a more amazing technology that one which enables a 10-ton tube of metal to become airborne in New York and drop you safely in Chicago two hours later) but hear me out.

This could be a good play with technology in the mix.

I'm talking about the small, but growing number of airlines that are experimenting with allowing passengers to leave their boarding passes at home and check in instead using their cell phones.

This from The New York Times last week:

"At least half a dozen airlines in the United States currently allow customers to check in using their mobile devices, including American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest and Alaska. But so far, Continental is the only carrier in the United States to begin testing the electronic passes, allowing those travelers to pass through security and board the plane without handling a piece of paper."

Since that article came out, it seems that Northwest Airlines is also testing the cell phone ticketing system, so I'd expect they'll all be lining up now. Consumers should love the technology, with one less thing to clutch in your hands as you race through an airport. Security could be a problem and I'm not sure how the FAA will view cell phone ticketing. But past that, I think customers will lean toward airlines that do allow the practice.

Hey, at this point, anything short of champagne and Belgian chocolate in coach, should help airline stocks. They dropped sharply in May, thanks to rising energy prices and consumers pulling back on travel spending. Last week alone the Amex Airline Index dropped 4.3 percent to 18.03, its lowest close ever.

Oil prices are mixed this week. Light, sweet crude for July delivery rose $1.38 to settle at $132 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after alternating between gains and losses. But it's worth noting that airline stocks often move opposite oil futures because fuel represents one of the industry's biggest costs.

"Given the spike in crude, we expect the U.S. airline industry to accelerate three years of evolution into one _ a painful adjustment," Credit Suisse analyst Daniel McKenzie told investors this week. "As the industry undergoes the process of 'natural selection,' carriers with low costs, a strong brand, and capital raising options are naturally selected; conversely carriers with high costs, a weak brand, and limited cash raising options are adversely selected."

With the industry grounded in terms of stock performance, cell phone ticketing could be a booster shot. I think it's one the industry should line up to be taking.

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