Biometric Boarding: How Airports Are Using Facial Recognition

Biometric Boarding: How Facial Recognition Is Replacing the Boarding Pass

With biometric boarding, your face is your boarding pass. As facial recognition software becomes more widespread, the use of biometrics in airports is growing rapidly. This blog looks at this emerging trend in airport biometrics technology. We’ll examine what biometric boarding is, how it works, how it’s being used in airports, and what its pros and cons are.

What Does Biometric Boarding Mean?

Biometric boarding uses facial recognition software to authenticate the identity of airline customers during airport security check-ins. This form of biometric authentication serves the same purpose as conventional manual checks of boarding passes and photos. Still, it uses automation to speed up the process and confirm passenger identity more accurately.

How Does Biometric Boarding Work?

A biometric boarding check compares a live photo of a passenger’s face with a previously taken photo of an individual. The previous photo may come from a source such as a government-issued ID or a photo taken earlier during check-in procedures. Facial recognition software uses artificial intelligence to pinpoint identifying characteristics of the person’s face and compare them with those on the stored photo. For example, Incode’s travel solutions combine AI and edge technology with facial recognition to let airline passengers present ID photos for automated capture and authentication and check in with their faces faster than any other solution.

How Do Airports Use Biometric Technology?

Airport gates that follow biometric boarding procedures have passenger groups stand in line as they would with typical boarding pass scans. When it’s a passenger’s turn to go to the front of the line, a face-level screen prompts them to approach the boarding podium, where the facial recognition system is positioned. There may be marks on the ground showing the passenger where to stand.

Once the passenger is positioned, a camera captures their picture. The facial recognition software then analyzes their image and compares it with previously supplied photo ID stored in the system database.

In most cases, the system confirms a match, and they are prompted to continue boarding. In some cases, such as an exceptionally tall passenger or someone wearing a hat or glasses, the person may need to make adjustments before the system recognizes them. If the system rejects them or they opt out of the biometric check, a boarding agent will manually review their ID and boarding pass.

When Did Airports Start Using Biometrics?

The Department of Homeland Security’s US Customers and Border Protection (CBP) division began testing the use of facial recognition technology in 2014. Airports in the United States have been using biometric boarding since Delta introduced the technology at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in December 2018.

Internationally, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines took the lead in testing biometric boarding technology at Schiphol Airport in 2017. British Airways also became an early adopter of biometric boarding in 2017.

Airports state that photos used for biometric boarding are only stored temporarily in the cloud for the length of time it takes to get a positive identification match from CBP. However, as of May 2020, CBP had not performed a comprehensive audit of the airline industry to verify this, an inquiry by Discover found.

Where Else Is Biometric Boarding Being Used at Airports?

As biometric boarding has become more common, its use at airports has spread beyond boarding. Facial recognition is now used for check-ins, bag drops, security screening, and car rentals. Biometric kiosks have become a fixture at many airports.

Pros and Cons of Biometric Boarding

Biometric boarding has both advantages and disadvantages. Pros include efficiency and accuracy, while cons include privacy and security concerns.

Pros of Biometric Boarding

  • Expedites the boarding process: One of the most significant advantages of facial recognition for passengers and airlines is that it speeds up the boarding process. Initial trials by Delta found that passengers saved an average of nine minutes at the gate per flight when using biometric boarding.
  • More convenient than traditional boarding: In addition to speed, biometric boarding is convenient. It can spare parents with children and elderly passengers the burden of manual checks.
  • Reduces human error: Biometrics can reduce boarding mistakes since a positive biometric match is required to board. The process is designed to be safer and more accurate than manual checks.
  • More user-friendly for passengers: Finally, biometric boarding can be more user-friendly and financially accessible for all passengers. Airlines often charge for printing boarding passes when passengers don’t download their app to get boarding passes, an expense that can be spared through biometric boarding.

Cons of Biometric Boarding

  • Privacy concerns: The biggest cons of biometric boarding are user consent and data privacy concerns. A 2020 study by the US Government Accountability Office found that CBP had been inconsistent in providing information about facial recognition scan consent in privacy notices or in posting such notices visibly. A proposed solution to this issue is to use electronic forms to provide better consumer education about what data is already on file in government databases, what information is stored during biometric checks, and how data can be legally disclosed to specific agencies.
  • Security concerns: Another concern is the security of facial recognition data. In 2019, CBP disclosed that its facial recognition database had been hacked, resulting in the theft of photos of faces and license plates for an estimated less than 100,000 people. Identity thieves are constantly developing new ways to circumvent biometrics checks, and biometrics security developers are continually developing innovations to frustrate such efforts. Security is a perennial concern for any new identity authentication technology, which will need to be addressed as biometrics boarding adoption moves forward.

Get on Board with Biometric Boarding

Biometric boarding simplifies the process of airport security checks and increases the accuracy of customer authentication. While the technology still faces some barriers to adoption, all indicators are that it will soon become standard in the airline industry.

Your biometric onboarding procedure should be supported by suitable software to provide customers with quick, accurate security checks. Incode’s biometric authentication platform combines facial recognition with artificial intelligence to streamline the process of verifying customer identity. Contact our team today to request a demo and see how biometrics technology can strengthen your security procedures while delivering your customers a faster check-in experience.