On Feb. 1, Lufthansa launched a boarding process for Flight 461 from Miami International Airport to Munich that uses facial recognition rather than boarding passes. Last March, Lufthansa, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Los Angeles World Airports had begun a trial of the biometric boarding program at the Los Angeles International Airport.
The carrier plans to expand it to more U.S. airports, and Lufthansa is not alone. In fact, 71 percent of airlines and 77 percent of airports plan major biometrics ID management R&D in the next three years, according to SITA. The efforts are expected to move travelers more efficiently, as the International Air Transport Association forecasts the number of air passengers will reach 8.2 billion globally in 2037, double those who flew in 2017.
Most biometric projects, however, are local and limited in scope, said IATA head of passenger security Guido Peetermans. They don’t span the end-to-end travel experience from booking to destination, and processes, standards and technologies vary from one airport to another.
How IATA Plans to Grease the Wheels
To encourage consistent practices and interoperability, IATA launched One ID in 2017. The initiative seeks to get passengers from curb to gate using biometrics. Rather than carry travel documents, a passenger would verify his or her identity using facial recognition, an iris scan or fingerprinting—either online or at the airport. At each airport touchpoint, such as security, biometric technology would check the passenger’s admissibility based on the digital identity information linked to his or her biometric marker, said Peetermans. “It’s really about being recognized and receiving instant service, which will make the whole process more efficient, more seamless and obviously, in the end, more secure.”
One ID counts carriers, airports and government agencies as members, and the initiative has been developing operational and process considerations for stakeholders.”What we are trying to do is sit down with governments and industry to see how we can connect the dots so we can make biometric and identity management applications interoperable, create standards and recommended practices so that everyone starts to work in the same direction, and connect all these processes with one another,” said Peetermans.
Traveler Perspective on Airport Biometrics
Forty-five percent of passengers are willing to replace their passports with biometric identification, according to an International Air Transport Association survey last year of 10,408 passengers from 145 countries. Another sign that travelers are open to the technology: In December, Delta launched a terminal in Atlanta that uses facial recognition. The carrier said that during the pilot, less than 2 percent of passengers opted out of the technology.
That doesn’t mean airlines or airports will require all travelers to allow biometrics in order to fly, though governments could. “Most privacy and data protection regulations have the concept of consent,” said International Air Transport Association head of passenger security Guido Peetermans. “If you give your consent, the information can be used to make your trip more seamless, and if you opt out, that’s fine. You can still do self-check in from your mobile phone or go to a desk at the airport.”
He pointed to Delta’s end-to-end-biometrics terminal, Terminal F, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Passengers flying directly from Atlanta to an international destination on Delta, Aeromexico, Air France-KLM or Virgin Atlantic can use facial recognition to get from curb to gate. Facial recognition checks each passenger against the passport on file with U.S. customs; the program is not limited to holders of U.S. passports. According to Delta, each passenger saved an average of two seconds at boarding, and the system trimmed nine minutes from the entire boarding process for a widebody aircraft. The carrier plans to implement biometric boarding at Detroit Metro Airport this year.