The test of SITA’s biometric boarding gate technology on JetBlue Airways flights at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) had “a close to 100% match-rate,” the Geneva-based air transport IT company said Sept. 19.

In May, SITA partnered with New York-based JetBlue and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to launch a test program of biometric facial recognition technology to identify passengers boarding flights from Boston to Aruba. The program started in June and, according to SITA, proved “hugely popular with JetBlue customers … when given the option, the vast majority [chose] to ‘board in a snap’ … stepping up to a camera without having to show a boarding pass, passport or any other papers.”

When a boarding passenger opts in to board with the new technology, the individual stepped to a camera and had their photograph taken. The camera station, connected to CBP, instantly matched the image to passport, visa or immigration photos in the CBP database and verified flight details. The customer was then notified on a screen above the camera if he/she was cleared to proceed to the jet bridge.

JetBlue said “the setup [moved] JetBlue crewmembers from behind the counter to interact with customers and assist throughout the process.”

“Working with industry partners like JetBlue [allowed CBP] to explore the best use of technology to implement biometric exit checks while improving the passenger experience,” CPB deputy executive assistant commissioner-office of field operations John Wagner said. “The integrated and frictionless solution devised with the airline and SITA [proved] a success for everyone—the airline, the passengers and CBP.”

SITA noted JetBlue passengers’ acceptance of the biometric exit check and self-boarding process was in line with the results of SITA’s 2017 Passenger IT survey “which shows that not only do passengers prefer to use technology but when they do it boosts satisfaction rates,” SITA president, Americas Randy Pizzi said. “The accuracy and speed of the system shows how [the] technology can provide a new way for airlines to bring value to their customers.” Pizzi indicated SITA will continue to work with JetBlue and [US] government agencies to extend use of the technology in the coming months.

Biometric technology is slowly but surely making inroads into the US airport passenger experience. CBP is testing biometric facial recognition exit technology at several US airports, including Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport (LAS), Houston’s William P. Hobby International Airport (HOU), Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is testing biometric fingerprint-based boarding technology for certain Delta Air Lines SkyMiles passengers. TSA is testing biometric fingerprint identification technology at TSA Pre-check lanes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Denver International Airport (DEN). And Delta trialed four facial recognition-equipped self-service bag drop machines at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) over the summer. 

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@penton.com