JetBlue and Delta are studying the advisability of eliminating the paper boarding pass, or even the smartphone boarding pass, and replacing them with biometric scanners – of the retina, face or fingerprints. The aim is to speed up the passage of passengers through some of the airport’s bottlenecks.
These first steps involve the passenger’s interaction with the airlines (boarding, baggage check), not with the TSA agents performing the mandatory security check. Airlines talk about biometric scanning reducing some of the “friction points” as if commercial flying isn’t a giant friction point from the moment you step onto airport property.
Here’s what JetBlue and Delta are doing: JetBlue at Boston’s Logan Airport will use passenger facial recognition in the boarding line against passport or visa photos, starting with one route, to Queen International Airport Beatrice in Aruba. For an international flight, a passenger needs both a boarding pass and a passport. JetBlue says there is no requirement to register or pre-register. The program is a collaboration between JetBlue, US Customs and Border Protection (CBA) and SITA, a security company working with airlines, airports and government agencies. It starts in June and JetBlue says it’s opt-in.
According to JetBlue, the program allows gate agents equipped with an iPad to get out “from behind the counter to interact with customers and help them through the process…giving them the mobility to monitor and manage the checkout process. boarding while interacting with customers”.
Delta, meanwhile, says it is testing fingerprint scanners at Washington’s Reagan National Airport to grant Sky Club lounge access to certain frequent flyers. In a second phase, fingerprint readers would allow Clear-enrolled travelers to check baggage and board flights later. Clear is a $179-per-year ($50 for each additional family member) private service at select airports that expedites check-ins directly from the Clear scanner to the passenger and carry-on scanners.
Clear is currently only available in 17 US cities, although this may include several airports as well as certain stadiums and arenas. In San Francisco, Clear is at SFO and AT&T (baseball) Park downtown.
Until now, none of these alternative identification methods other than Clear allowed a traveler to bypass the current process of presenting physical identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, at the office. security from the TSA.
Say goodbye to your privacy?
Biometric scanning projects can get in trouble with civil libertarians. Travelers may wonder if it’s worth a little less personal privacy if it means catching your flight home at 5:50 p.m. Realists may conclude that our information — photos for sure, fingerprints if you’re in TSA Pre or Global Entry — is already in various databases.
Or, as Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, put it in 1999: “You don’t have any privacy anyway. Move on.” He meant it ironically. Partially.