Biometric tech is taking off in airports

Biometric tech is going global, one airport at a time.

It’s not a trip to the airport if you don’t check for your passport at least a dozen times on the ride over.

A white woman’s face with digital scanning lines over it and an airplane taking off in the background.

But what if you could rid yourself of that anxiety — and of your passport altogether?

While the TSA has used facial recognition tech since 2019, the “tipping point” for air travel biometrics could come in 2024, per The New York Times.

Experimental programs are already underway in airports around the country:

  • Delta Digital ID allows PreCheck members to scan their faces instead of boarding passes and IDs at five US airports.
  • United Airlines lets PreCheck travelers use their faces to check bags at select airports.
  • American Airlines flyers can get into the airline’s Dallas airport lounge with just their faces.

With TSA facial screening verification already used at ~30 airports and expanding to 400+ more in the coming years, biometric tech looks like it’s here to stay.

Future of flying

One report suggests that 70% of global airlines will use biometric tools for identification by 2026, with 90% of airports already investing in the tech.

Facial recognition technology could grow smart enough for us to ditch physical identification entirely, allowing travelers to go door to door with just their mugs.

This could save a lot of time: Facial scanning cuts over a minute from the bag drop process (down to 30 seconds) and 15 seconds off security interactions (to ~10 seconds).

Overseas, biometric tech is already far ahead:

  • Singapore’s Changi Airport is going passport-free for all departures.
  • Germany’s Frankfurt Airport lets passengers use their faces for the entire travel process.
  • In China, 86% of the country’s international airports use biometric tech. Beijing Capital International Airport lets travelers use their faces at every step of their trip, including checking out at duty-free stores.

But back in the US…

… only ~36% of international airports employ biometric tech. Most of the updates are due to a 2001 congressional mandate requiring airports to add systems that allow for biometric identification of all travelers coming in or out of the US.

That rollout is finished for US entries — it scanned ~113m of them last year — and will be available for all departures by 2026.

Of course, the tech is not without its downsides: there are concerns about its ramifications for privacy and surveillance.

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