Airlines Try Biometric Identification for Boarding and Bags


Photo

Facial recognition technology used by JetBlue.

Two United States air carriers, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue, recently began passenger trials in biometric identification, a technology that verifies a person’s identity through fingerprints, facial features or other physical characteristics.

In early June, JetBlue, teaming up with United States Customs and Border Protection, introduced optional self-boarding on flights from Logan International Airport in Boston to Beatrix International Airport in Aruba. The process requires no boarding pass and takes about three seconds, said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s executive vice president for customer experience.

Fliers who choose to try it out step up to a camera at the boarding gate for a quick photo. This image is matched with passport, visa or immigration photos in the Customs and Border Protection database, and once flight details and identity are confirmed, a check mark appears on the camera and fliers can board the plane. So far, more than 90 percent of passengers are using this self-boarding process, Ms. Geraghty said, and if the trial is successful, the airline plans to expand biometric identification to more flights.

“The technology is revolutionary because your face becomes your passport and travel document,” she said. (These boarding processes, however, are not a replacement for the security screening done by the Transportation Security Administration.)

Delta is using biometric identification to allow fliers to check their own bags at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the airline’s second-largest hub after Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The airline invested $600,000 in four self-service bag drop machines equipped with biometric technology; a passport is needed to use it.

Passengers print out their luggage stickers at a check-in kiosk and then head to one of the bag drop machines, where they scan their passports and have their picture taken by the machine. Once the images on their passports are matched with the images from the machine and their identities are confirmed, they place their bags on the belt; the machine weighs the bags and moves them on.

Gareth Joyce, the company’s senior vice president for airport customer experience, said the process took around 30 seconds.

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