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Ten airlines now offer biometric boarding out of Los Angeles International Airport.
More and more travelers can now use facial recognition technology to board a plane.
For those tired of waiting in long boarding lines and fumbling with boarding passes, Norwegian and Air France–KLM now offer a faster way on the plane—if you’re cool with facial recognition technology, that is.
On July 11, Air France–KLM began testing biometric boarding on its Air France flights out of John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York City and George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston, serving more than 2,200 passengers daily from the two airports combined. (Air France–KLM is the parent company for Air France, KLM, and Transavia.) To get on the plane, all participating passengers have to do is pause and have their faces scanned at a special “gate”: If the scan matches a passport photo on file with U.S. Customs, then the gates open, and a passenger is free to board.
With testing at these airports, Air France–KLM moves closer to its promise of offering facial recognition boarding at all U.S. airports it flies out of by 2020. At present, passengers flying KLM or Air France out of Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas–Fort Worth, Detroit, Washington Dulles, San Francisco, and Seattle can board using biometrics, regardless of flight class.
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That wasn’t the only big biometric news on July 11: The first Norwegian flight to board using facial recognition departed from Los Angeles to Barcelona, making it the first low-cost, long-haul airline to offer facial boarding technology at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The airport is a popular testing ground for the technology, thanks to its 2017 partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Vision-Box, which develops touchpoints and scanners. Nine other airlines currently offer biometric boarding from the gateway: Air France, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, KLM, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines.
Facial recognition technology uses images that the CBP already has on file, whether it be from passports or visa applications, or fingerprints taken when you enter customs and immigration. Instead of “storing” these images, the system uses encryption to avoid compromising privacy. As with all biometric boarding, passengers uncomfortable with the experience can opt out and instead have an agent process them. (All passengers still need to carry a boarding pass and passport, regardless of whether they use facial recognition technology.)
Still, there are concerns around the technology and potential data breaches. In June, CBP officials acknowledged that thousands of photos of people were “compromised” after a cyberattack, according to Wired. Passengers have also documented difficulties they experienced in attempting to “opt out” of facial recognition technologies.
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Facial recognition technology does significantly speed up boarding: It takes mere seconds for a computer to recognize a person, saving nine minutes of boarding time per 275 people, reports Wired. No wonder 77 percent of airports and 71 percent of airlines are investing in the technology and have planned either trials or are committing to full-on biometric scanning in the next three years. Even the U.S. Transportation Security Administration plans to incorporate more biometric screening measures, and once it has enough images in its database, TSA will begin testing facial biometric technology in TSA PreCheck lanes at select airports.
Perhaps a glimpse of the future? In December 2018, Delta opened the first all-biometric terminal in the United States in Atlanta, and passengers can use “facial recognition technology to check in at self-service kiosks; check their bags; use as identification in the TSA security line; and to board their flight at any gate in Terminal F,” reports AFAR’s Michelle Baran.
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