NewsDollar bills banned as Continental Airlines cashes in on cashless-cabin trendThis article was originally published onBy Dennis Schaal | December 1, 2009 Continental Airlines today became the latest airline to introduce a cashless cabin for on-board purchases.So, starting Dec. 1, if you want to purchase an alchoholic beverage or headset on a Continental mainline flight -- with the exception of China routes -- you will have to bring some plastic in the form of a credit or debit card.Hand-held devices, which the airline began testing last Summer, will read the cards, crunch the transactions and help the airline manage product inventory.The readers look like this:I'm unsure, however, that Ben (Dustin Hoffman) could have envisioned the cashless cabin when he was advised here in the 1967 film, The Graduate, that his future should revolve around "plastics."Continental states flatly in a press release headline that "customers prefer to use credit and debit cards for onboard purchases" and adds in the body of the press release that "Continental is making the change in response to feedback from customers and flight crews who expressed interest in using card readers for on-board purchases to eliminate the hassle of fumbling for money and making correct change."Alas, "money" apparently is so yesterday, although I doubt Continental's customers expressed their desire in lockstep to have the airline ban dollar bills on board.Continental's policy leaves the estimated 22% of Americans who don't have credit cards out in the cold, so to speak, or at least relegated to drinking soda or coffee. Yes, believe it or not, there is a major recession going on out there in the real world, and with credit card companies jacking up fees in anticipation of new regulations kicking in next year, many Americans don't have plastic at their disposal.Enabling flight attendants to take credit cards for drinks and headsets is an improvement, but at least it would have been nice to retain the option of paying in cash, as well.Of course, Continental offers plenty of options for travelers looking to get a Continental Airlines World MasterCard, with its hefty fees.In its defense, Continental still is one of the few U.S. airlines to offer free meals on board and it smartly uses this perk to its marketing advantage.In other words, instead of its slogan, "Continental Airlines -- Work Hard, Fly Right," I would propose: "Continental Airlines -- Work Hard, Eat Right."Regarding the cashless cabins, Continental Express, Continental Connection and Continental Micronesia flights are slated to go cashless for booze and headsets in the first quarter of 2010.Continental is still working out the kinks for using -- or continuing "to develop its process for accepting" -- the China Union Pay card, the credit card leader in China, on the airline's China routes. So, travelers to and from China can look forward to a plastic-only policy on Continental's China flights some time in the future.The exception to the new plastic-only rule for on-board purchases on Continental is for Duty-free items. Cash is still king and readily accepted for Duty-free purchases.I guess all of that "fumbling" and "hassle" is still OK for these larger purchases.