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The rapid improvements we have been seeing in facial recognition software combined with the amazing capability government agencies have to collect and collate data about us have seen airlines make serious investments in biometric gate technology.
Delta and BA were both playing around with biometric gates back in 2017, British Airways then expanded its US biometric gate trials to include 3 gates at LAX back in March, Lufthansa followed suit just a couple of weeks later and, just recently, JetBlue got its facial recognition systems up and running at JFK.
Now, at LAX, it’s the turn of American Airlines.
American has just announced that it has launched a biometric boarding program at LAX.
Here’s how American Airlines describes its program:
American customers traveling on select international departures from LAX Terminal 4 can now enjoy additional convenience during the departure process thanks to cutting-edge technology. Instead of scanning boarding passes, the new one-step facial recognition program will scan and verify a customer’s identity with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in seconds at the gate.
American says that this pilot program will be in place for 90 days as it evaluates its effectiveness and it has confirmed that, for the duration of the pilot, passengers will be allowed to opt-out and board with their boarding pass and passport in the usual way should they so choose.
Based on the limited images American Airlines has supplied it looks as if this trial is taking place at LAX Terminal 4 Gate 41….
….but I’m almost sure that I’ve seen biometrics being trialed at this gate before (possibly when I last passed through in October). If that’s the case, what was going on then and what’s going on now?
If anyone else has noticed biometric gates at LAX T4 can you please let me know in the comments (I’d like to know if I’m seeing things or not!).
What Are Biometric Gates?
Biometric gates are electronic gates that, in many ways, look similar to the gates you’ll find on many of the world’s subway systems….except that these gates have facial recognition devices and software attached to them:
These gates rely on two things – the information the computers linked up to them have been given and facial recognition software.
CBP already holds records containing all US citizen’s passport details and, for travelers entering the United States, the CBP collects all the data as passengers get their passport scanned, have their fingerprints taken (digitally) and have their picture taken all as they pass through immigration.
These things form some of the key components that help the biometric gates work.
The information collected from US citizens and from passengers entering the US (as well as all the other information the authorities already hold on passengers) is used by the facial recognition software built into the biometric gates to “recognize” a passenger when he/she steps up to the gate.
Based on the information on file, and after having scanned the passenger’s face, the biometric gate will then either open the gate to let the passenger board the plane or will attract the attention of a gate agent to alert them to a possible issue.
The software being employed in the biometric gates works in a very similar way to how facial recognition software works on smartphones…except that the data it’s able to access to is considerably more powerful.
Ultimately the whole point of these gates is to allow passengers to board an aircraft without the need for a gate agents to check each and every passenger’s passport and boarding pass.
Unlike the eGates that passengers use at airports such as London Heathrow, these biometric gates do not require a passenger to present any documents whatsoever – they just look into the camera and wait to be allowed through (hopefully!)
At the end of my blog post on JetBlue’s new biometric gates at JFK I made a plea for similar gates at LAX T4 and it looks like my wish has been granted 🙂
As I’ve suggested before, these new gates aren’t flawless by any means but they may actually turn out to be the solution to more than just slow boarding – they may also cut down on line jumpers and self-upgraders too. That has to be good news and something worth applauding but I’ll wait to see how effective these gates are on an ongoing basis before I give them a thumbs up.