Biometric Boarding Takes Off Despite Privacy Concerns


    Delta Air Lines is currently testing its “scan and fly” fingerprint boarding process at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Image via Delta Air Lines

    APEX Insight: As the use of facial recognition technology and fingerprint scanning to board aircraft and cross borders increases, convenience appears to be prevailing over privacy concerns.

    Airlines and airports continue rolling out new biometric passenger identification to ease check-in, boarding and border clearance, despite privacy concerns expressed by passengers.

    Delta Air Lines has launched the first phase of its new boarding experience in the T Concourse of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It includes equipping gate agents with handheld devices in order to assist passengers and installing new E-Gates which let passengers board by scanning their smartphone or boarding pass. Biometric boarding, using fingerprint recognition, will be introduced during phase two later this year. The airline is currently testing its “scan and fly” fingerprint boarding process at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Delta first incorporated fingerprint biometrics for access to its Delta Sky Club.

    JetBlue announced a limited deployment of facial recognition biometrics as part of its US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) procedures for flights from Boston to Aruba this summer. In partnership with Helsinki Airport operator Finavia and technology company Futurice, Finnair tested app-assisted facial recognition technology to ease check-in this May. Schiphol and KLM trailed facial recognition for boarding identity clearance this February. Brisbane Airport and Air New Zealand launched a trial of SITA’s Smart Path facial recognition technology to simplify the journey from check-in to boarding.

    SAS has even implanted a microchip in a willing participant, to test alternative digital identity clearance processes for boarding. SAS Lab, The airline’s innovation center, has also proposed less invasive methods of easing the boarding process, using palm scanning technology and specially designed rings and wristbands.

    In its 2017 Passenger IT Trends Survey, SITA revealed that 57 percent of passengers say they would use biometrics for journey identity and boarding instead of a passport and boarding pass, though a third of passengers still express some privacy concerns. Biometric data integration across borders is still a concern for governments, which limits the feasibility of a single global biometric identity token for now, but experts agree that the eyes will ultimately be the window of travel.