Your face is or will be your boarding pass

If it’s been a year or more since you’ve traveled, especially overseas, you might notice something different at US airports: more steps ...


If it’s been a year or more since you’ve traveled, especially overseas, you might notice something different at US airports: more steps – from checking in to a bag customs clearance – are automated using biometrics.

Biometrics are unique individual traits, such as fingerprints, that can be used to automate and verify identity. They promise both greater safety and efficiency in the movement of travelers through an airport where, at the stages of check-in to boarding, passengers are normally required to present a photo ID issued by the government.

In the travel disruption caused by the pandemic, many airports, airlines, tech companies, and government agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have continued to invest in biometric advancements. The need for social distancing and contactless interactions only added to the urgency.

“The technologies have gotten much more sophisticated and the accuracy rate much higher,” said Robert Tappan, general manager of the business group. International Association of Biometrics + Identity, which called for momentum to appease crowds and reduce contact with these “COVID-accelerated.” “

Many of the latest biometric developments use facial recognition, which the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently found is at least 99.5 percent accurate, rather than iris scanning or fingerprints.

“The iris scan has been touted as the most foolproof,” said Sherry Stein, Americas chief technology officer for SITA, a biometric technology company based in Switzerland. “For biometrics to work, you need to be able to match a known, trusted data source because you’re trying to compare it to a record in a file. The face is the simplest because all the documents we use that prove your identity – driver’s license, passports, etc. – rest on the face.

Shortly after September 11, Congress mandated a entry and exit system using biometric technology to secure US borders. Some travelers have expressed concerns about privacy, and while companies and agencies using the technology say they don’t keep the images, the systems rely heavily on consenting travelers agreeing to their use.

“Privacy is a major concern, as it should be, so most of these programs are going to be opt-in, and the government is trying to increase this pre-approved audience,” said Jason Van Sice, vice president of the aviation to the Advanced Recognition Systems division of NEC Corporation of America, who has worked in biometrics since 1971. He added that the loss of business during the pandemic has pushed airlines and airports to automate themselves as a cost saving measure. “It really led to a digital transformation that was already underway. “

There are signs that the pandemic could advance biometric acceptance. In its recent 2021 passenger survey, the International Air Transport Association found that 73% of passengers are willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes, up from 46% in 2019.

Part of the adoption of biometrics may come from its day-to-day applications, such as using facial recognition to open your phone or access your banking app.

“The implementation of transparent and contactless platforms is currently at full speed around the world, and its major impact is expected to be felt by 2022, as planning and deployment typically takes 12 to 18 months. to be effective, ”said Jeff Lennon. , Vice President of Strategic Sales and Global Partnerships at Vision-Box, which operates biometric technology at more than 100 airports around the world, including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. “This fits in well with the expected return of mass international travel next year.”

In short, technological changes are arriving fast and furiously at airports, including the following advancements in biometrics.

In November, Delta Air Lines launched a new digital identity program for TSA PreCheck members at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport who can choose to use facial recognition to do everything from checking a bag to security screening and boarding their domestic flight .

To register, passengers must enter their US passport number, which allows you to verify your identity in advance using your passport photo, even if the new program is only national.

Using the hands-free facial scan, travelers can obtain a baggage tag, then proceed to a dedicated TSA PreCheck line for the facial scan, no identification required.

Currently, Delta has eight doors in its T Lobby equipped for domestic boarding with facial recognition; most of these flights are directed to business travel destinations such as New York and Boston. Travelers do not need to present a boarding pass and their seat assignment will appear on the facial recognition screen after scanning.

Delta has been testing the technology since 2018 and plans to bring it to its Detroit hub later this year.

“We want to give our customers more time to enjoy travel by unlocking streamlined, transparent and efficient end-to-end experiences,” said Byron Merritt, vice president of brand experience design at Delta.

Only about 44 percent of the American population has passports, limiting the number of flyers that can access biometric technology that relies on identity photos. To make the technology available to more travelers, biometrics company SITA tested a system earlier this year with United Airlines at San Francisco International Airport that used driver’s licenses as well as passports. as check-in documents to compare to facial scans for baggage and home screening. baording.

Through a spokesperson, United said the test was successful and that it “is constantly looking for other ways to use biometrics to streamline the travel experience for customers, and we’ll have more to do with it. share in the weeks and months to come “.

SITA called the trial a success, thanks to the growth of Real id, which standardizes driving license requirements nationwide and will be mandatory for airline passengers by May 3, 2023. The company said it plans to launch the technology next year but wouldn’t say where.

Returning from Iceland to Chicago O’Hare International Airport in October, I approached the airport kiosk which normally scans your passport and fingerprints and obtains Global entry members like me passed customs and border protection officers in a matter of minutes. This time the kiosk took only my photo, spat out a copy, which included my name and passport details, and got me through the agents quickly in under a minute.

Customs and border protection introduced facial recognition technology to kiosks used by Global Entry members starting in 2018. Of its 76 airports and preclearance locations with access to Global Entry, 42 use facial recognition.

Global Entry, which expedites the return to the United States for approved applicants who provide their fingerprints, complete a long-form questionnaire and pay $ 100, has long relied on voluntary submission of biometric data for identity.

More generally, CBP uses facial comparison technology for entry into the United States at nearly 200 airports and 12 seaports used by cruise lines. He is currently testing the technology, called Simplified Arrival, on certain routes for Vehicles at the Anzalduas International Bridge entry point, near McAllen, TX.

Boarding an aircraft using biometrics increases efficiency, according to technology providers. Vision-Box’s Mr. Lennon, who handles biometric boarding at Kennedy Airport in New York City, said he is able to board 400 people in 20 minutes, about half the normal boarding time.

Even before the pandemic, the three traditional US-based carriers were experimenting with biometric boarding of outgoing international flights. American has biometric boarding at four gateways, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Chicago O’Hare, and is testing facial recognition technology to access its Admirals Club lounges at Dallas International Airport Fort Worth.

United offers the technology on international flights from the United States to Houston, Washington Dulles, San Francisco and Chicago O’Hare. A spokeswoman said more than 250 outgoing international flights per week are biometrically boarded and the airline plans to expand to other hubs next year.

Delta allows international travelers to use their face like boarding pass at eight airports, including Minneapolis and Kennedy. Biometric boarding is optional and anyone wishing to be processed manually can use a boarding pass and passport.

Perhaps the most visible biometric operator at airports across the country is CLEAR, a subscription service that allows members to use its dedicated kiosks to evaluate your biometric data, confirm your identity and advance you to the head of the TSA security line. Subscribers pay $ 179 per year and submit iris and fingerprint scans.

Since the pandemic, the company has launched DELETE Health Pass, which is a digital health record, free to users, that clears an individual based on items such as vaccine requirements for expedited admission to participating sports venues.

Elaine Glusac is the columnist for Frugal Traveler. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.


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