Continental: $billion, multi-national corporation, doesn’t get that not everybody uses Microsoft

By | June 30, 2008

I recently checked in for a flight on Continental Airlines through my PDA. It’s very cool that Continental has a way for people to do this.

At the end of the check-in process, I was asked whether I wanted to pick up my boarding pass at a kiosk, have it emailed to me for printing, or have it faxed to me. I chose email.

A few seconds later, I received an email message with the following headers (slightly tweaked to remove irrelevant and personal information):

Subject: Boarding pass for your flight to Boston
Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2008 18:46:43 -0500
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/mixed;
X-MS-Has-Attach: yes
X-MS-TNEF-Correlator: <>
Content-class: urn:content-classes:message
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft Exchange V6.5
Thread-Topic: Boarding pass for your flight to Boston
Thread-Index: AcjbC4yEEWhQsv+ySECLeqxRM7dbLQ==
From: "Continental Airlines, Inc." 
X-Brightmail-Tracker: AAAAAA==

Those of you who have worked with the nuts and bolts of how email works and who have had the misfortune to deal with Microsoft’s non-standard “improvements” to email undoubtedly cringed at the site of the acronym “TNEF” in the header above.

For those of you who have had the good luck not to have to deal with this particular Microsoft brain-damage, I will explain. “TNEF” stands for “Transport Neutral Encapsulation Format”. It is a proprietary email attachment format used by Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange Server.

There are no email clients other than Microsoft Outlook (and perhaps Outlook Express, I’m not sure) which understand how to read email messages that have TNEF attachments.

There is absolutely no reason to use TNEF attachments to send boarding passes — they can be attached to email messages perfectly fine using MIME, which is of course an Internet standard (TNEF isn’t) and is understood by pretty much every email reader on the planet (TNEF isn’t).

Continental is emailing boarding passes in a format that will be completely useless to many, many people.

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One thought on “Continental: $billion, multi-national corporation, doesn’t get that not everybody uses Microsoft

  1. jik Post author

    The format that you use for emailing boarding passes to people who check in using a PDA is completely useless to people who do not use Microsoft Outlook. The boarding pass PDF file is stored in the email message as a TNEF attachment rather than a MIME attachment, and only Outlook understands TNEF attachments. It is trivial to generate MIME-compliant email messages, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be doing that rather than generating messages that use the non-standard, non-compliant TNEF format.

    Please see my blog posting about this at

    And while I’m at it, here’s another thing I’d like to complain about. I entered “” in the “E-mail Address” field of this form. That’s a perfectly valid email address — there’s no reason why “+” can’t appear on the left-hand side of an email address. Nevertheless, the form is rejected with the error message “Please enter a valid E-mail Address”. It’s unacceptable that your Web site does not accept valid email addresses on its Web forms.

    And yet another complaint. After I corrected the bogus email address problem, the Web form to submit a bug report to you was *still* rejected, this time with the error message “Please enter a valid Subject.” Unfortunately, it did not explain what exactly was wrong with my Subject, which was, “Format for boarding pass email is useless to non-Outlook users”. I’m going to try submitting this without the hyphen on the off change that that’s the problem, although I can’t imagine why a Web form should refuse to accept a hyphen in a message subject.


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