Biometrics could replace boarding passes on international flights within 4 years

Biometrics could replace boarding passes on international flights within 4 years

Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY Published 3:01 p.m. ET Feb. 1, 2018 | Updated 5:38 p.m. ET Feb. 1, 2018

LOS ANGELES — Goodbye passport, so long boarding pass. And get ready for this — your means of entry at airports could soon just be your face.

Dan Tanciar, a top official with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, told USA TODAY that biometrics for international travelers, which allow passengers to board a flight or clear passport control via a photo, is right around the corner.

“Our goal is to have this in place over the next four years,” said Tanciar, who is a deputy executive director of the Customs and Border Protection agency.

The plan is to begin with international flights then expand to domestic, he added.

“On inbound international travel, you’ll be able to leave the passport in your pocket,” he added.

Tanciar says biometrics at the airport works by matching the picture the government already has, your passport photo, with a new image generated at the airport.

Using biometric technology for domestic flights will take longer to implement, he says, because the TSA doesn’t have the same kind of national database of photos as the U.S. government does with passports. Each state would have to come together to merge their driver’s license IDs.

Three airlines are currently testing limited biometric entry: JetBlue, British Airways and Delta at airports in Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles, but passports are still involved.

Delta, in its test, has ditched the boarding pass only for flights from Atlanta to Paris, while JetBlue offers the service from Boston to Aruba.

At Los Angeles International Airport, British Airways is offering biometric entry for some international flights, instead of a boarding pass. Lufthansa, Qantas and Korean Air plan to install similar offerings at LAX this month. 

The San Jose airport hopes to go 100% biometric for international travels this year. "Our intention is to be the first airport in the United States" to feature the service for all international flights, says Rebecca Baer, the deputy director of Innovation and business development at SJC.

Baer, along with Tanciar, spoke this week at the APEX Tech conference in Los Angeles, put on by the Airline Passenger Experience Association.

For domestic flights, she sees a way around waiting for the TSA to join Customs in adding the services by using an opt-in system, similar to how fliers sign up (and pay) with the TSA for preauthorized clearances at airports.

“I could voluntarily give the airline or government my pictures and verify my ID the same way we do with a passport, like we do with a precheck,” she says.

The advantage Customs has over the TSA in getting the program moving is that international travel is a smaller volume, she says, and there are different requirements for international travelers.

“If we created a system that relied on a voluntary submission, it could come a lot faster.”


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