How airports are using biometric screening so you can spend less time waiting in lines


Maddie Winters, a travel agent and blogger, typically accumulates between 75,000 and 100,000 frequent flyer miles per year. With so much time spent at airports, she relies on her memberships in programs like TSA PreCheck and Clear to save time at the airport. “[Having those memberships] makes me think I can show up at the airport later because I avoid most of the lines at security, ”says the New Jersey-based traveler. However, on a recent trip from Los Angeles to Hawaii, a line running the length of the terminal to check in a bag nearly cost him an on-time departure.

This all-too-common scenario is one of the problems that airports, airlines, and government agencies hope to address with an increasing amount of biometrics, the category of technology that includes fingerprint, retina, and facial recognition scans and helps travelers take the plunge. lines.

“Each of us is physically different in many different ways, from the spacing between our eyes, the sound of our voice to the patterns of our fingerprints,” says Rob Mungovan, COO at Aware, a biometrics software company. “Biometrics measures these differences and records them. This comparison of physical characteristics can be a much more secure authentication method than those used in most contemporary solutions, such as passwords.

Since the start of the pandemic, biometrics have proliferated in hubs across the country as a faster, contactless option at every stage of air travel. One particularly notable new initiative is a pilot program between Delta and TSA, with a new biometric baggage drop designed to deliver a smooth, contactless experience that should take less than 30 seconds.

Here’s how it works and what else is new in biometrics for air travel.

Deposit and boarding of biometric bags

Delta and TSA’s new baggage drop program was put in place for testing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in late October. (A similar pilot program is also in place at the Detroit Wayne County Metro Airport.) Travelers will proceed to a dedicated baggage drop area on the lower level of the South Terminal. On the screen, the connected camera will automatically take their photo and send it to the Travel Verification Service’s database, managed by Customs and Border Protection. After verification (we tried it and it took less than a second), the pending bag labels automatically print. Attach the tags, place them on the treadmill, and walk to safety as usual. “The TSA has identified facial recognition as being more accurate than human performance,” says Greg Forbes, CEO of Delta, Airport Experience. “It’s much harder to cheat facial recognition than it is to forge a driver’s license. [And] everything is contactless, all hands-free. If you have registered, you will also be allowed to board your flight without showing a boarding pass or other identification; your face serves as a boarding pass.

Earlier this year, United Airlines announced a similar, contactless biometric experiment at San Francisco International Airport with identity management company SITA Smart Path. The program allows domestic travelers on select flights to use their face as a boarding pass for check-in and baggage drop-off. Likewise, American Airlines offers biometric boarding at certain airports, including Dallas Fort Worth International. Even Hertz is deploying fingerprint tracking and facial recognition to give rental car customers a faster, contactless pickup experience.


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