Is facial recognition the new boarding pass?


Airlines like the North Americans JetBlue and Delta Airlines have begun testing biometric technology to replace boarding passes. The aim is to streamline the boarding process and make checking-in luggage more efficient.

While JetBlue has opted for a facial recognition system, Delta Airlines plans to start testing digital fingerprints. Delta began experimenting with the checking-in of bags and boarding of its customers, who are members of its SkyMile loyalty program, at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and has also set up an automatic bag drop desk at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International  Airport.

JetBlue, in close collaboration with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities, is starting the tests with flights from Logan International Airport in Boston to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba.

Instead of showing the ticket to an agent at the boarding gate, a specially designed camera takes a photo of the passenger. The image is sent to a system and compared with a photo register of passports and visas in the U.S. customs database. If the photos match, they can board the flight.

Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s EVP for customer experience, said: “we hope to learn how we can further reduce friction points in the airport experience, with the boarding process being one of the hardest to solve.”

Jim Peters, Chief Technology Office at SITA, the company responsible for developing the technology for BlueJet and the CBP, said that the automatic boarding program is designed to be user-friendly with the end goal to provide passengers with a safe a smooth experience.

The biggest challenge reported so far by the airlines is passports with old photos that make the facial recognition process more difficult. Another concern is protecting passengers’ privacy.

British Airways, KLM and Emirates are other airlines that have started to experiment with new technologies. If the companies behind these technologies are able to overcome the technology and privacy issues and provide a more pleasant experience for passengers, boarding cards could quickly become a thing of the past.


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