The Transportation Security Administration announced Tuesday that it is testing technology to identify passengers by their fingerprints at airports in Atlanta and Denver — a system that could ultimately eliminate paper boarding passes and ID documents.
The experiment comes as TSA studies ways to get travelers through checkpoints faster.
The private identification company Clear pioneered a service for travelers to skip to the head of airport checkpoint lines after identifying them by fingerprints or iris scans. Carriers such as JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines also want to use the technology to identify passengers.
TSA is evaluating whether a passenger’s fingerprints could be used reliably to authenticate the person’s identity and boarding pass. The test is for Precheck members, who have already provided fingerprints as part of their application for the expedited screening lanes.
“TSA looks at technologies and intelligence capabilities that allow us to analyze and secure the travel environment, passengers and their property,” said Steve Karoly, TSA acting assistant administrator for requirements and capabilities analysis. “Through these and other technology demonstrations, we are looking to reinvent and enhance security effectiveness to meet the evolving threat and ensure that passengers get to their destinations safely.”
Clear already offers to identify travelers at 21 airports and let them skip to the head of TSA lines. The program costs $179 per year, although a member's relative costs $50. Delta also reduces the cost for its frequent fliers.
JetBlue announced May 31 that it was collaborating with Customs and Border Protection, another division of the Department of Homeland Security, on facial-recognition technology from SITA to identify travelers at the gate during boarding.
The program will begin this summer with flights from Boston’s Logan International Airport to Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport, and customers don't need to enroll or register before participating. Travelers, who don’t need boarding passes, will step up to a camera for a picture that will be compared to CBP’s database for passports, visas and immigration photos.
“We hope to learn how we can further reduce friction points in the airport experience, with the boarding process being one of the hardest to solve,” said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s executive vice president of customer experience. “Self-boarding eliminates boarding pass scanning and manual passport checks. Just look into the camera and you’re on your way.”
Delta Air Lines announced Tuesday that passengers departing from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and New York’s John F. Kennedy airports will be part of a test of facial-recognition equipment with Customs and Border Protection. The test using equipment from NEC Corp. at Atlanta and Vision-Box at JFK aims to use facial recognition for identification and ticketing.
“Delta is always willing to partner with the CBP as it continues testing new technologies to improve its processes,” said Gil West, Delta's chief operating officer.
The test began Monday at JFK at gate B24 and will begin later this summer at Atlanta’s gates E10 and E12. The airline has been collaborating for a year in Atlanta with NEC and CBP on testing facial-recognition for exit screening at gates F6 and F9.
"CBP has been working with our stakeholders to build a simplified but secure travel process that not only meets the biometric exit mandate, but also aligns with CBP’s and the travel industry’s modernization efforts,” said John Wagner, CBP’s deputy executive assistant commissioner for field operations.
TSA will analyze how the system works for possible expansion to more airports.