JetBlue Launches Revolutionary Facial Recognition Boarding Process

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Even with the proliferation of new technology, the airline boarding process is more soul-sucking now than ever. Sure, we have access to mobile boarding passes and dedicated airline apps. But, when (if) they work as advertised, how much better have they really made the entire affair? One domestic U.S. airline is rethinking their strategy in a way that could eliminate traditional boarding passes (printed or otherwise) altogether.

JetBlue Airways has long been at the forefront of aviation technology. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when we learned this week that the carrier is working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on a state-of-the-art boarding process. The program uses facial recognition to replace traditional boarding passes and passports entirely. It requires no previous enrollment in a government-sanctioned air travel program. The process is similar to the automated customs and immigration checkpoint kiosks currently in use at many U.S. airports. Travelers step to a digital camera that snaps their photo which is relayed to CBP officials. In five to seven seconds, the facial recognition system automatically matches the traveler’s profile pic to archived passport, visa, or immigration photos. Once confirmed and approved, the passenger is green-lit to proceed to the jetway.

Like all new-wave technologies, particularly in the airline industry, adoption can be slow. There’s the inevitable sky-high cost of rollout, plus passengers are increasingly antsy about having yet another piece of their lives scanned, digitized, and archived. Plus, biometrics are already a hot-button issue in the world of personal digital security. However, the airline is assuring passengers that it will not have direct access to the photos.

It’s hard not to imagine this is the way of the future for air travel. Imagine a hyper-streamlined airport a la Minority Report where passengers — particularly those enrolled in one of the government’s Trusted Travel Network programs — can breeze through security without ever pulling out a document or interacting with a human. The technology already exists; now, it’s just a matter of implementing it.

The current rollout begins June 12 and will be extremely limited, as these pilot programs always are. JetBlue is only trialing the process on select international flights out of Boston. If all goes well, they’ll consider expanding the plan nationwide. Delta is testing a similar program in the lobby of the Minneapolis airport to authenticate checked baggage drop-offs.