JetBlue Airways is partnering with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and global air transport IT specialist SITA to trial facial recognition technology to identify passengers boarding aircraft.

Passengers participating in the trial, which starts in June, will not need paper boarding passes or barcoded passes on their personal electronic devices. Instead, on JetBlue flights from Boston to Aruba, passengers who opt in at the airport (prior registration will not be required) will step up to a camera to have a photo taken at the boarding gate.

“The camera station will connect to CBP to instantly match the image to passport, visa or immigration photos in the CBP database and verify flight details,” JetBlue said in a statement. “The customer will be notified on an integrated screen above the camera when they are cleared to proceed to the jet bridge. The setup will move JetBlue crewmembers from behind the counter to interact with customers and assist throughout the process. JetBlue will issue iPad minis to crewmembers, giving them mobility to monitor and manage the boarding process while interacting with customers.”

JetBlue EVP-customer experience Joanna Geraghty noted the boarding process is one of the most difficult “friction points” in the passenger journey for airlines to improve. “Self-boarding eliminates boarding pass scanning and manual passport checks. Just look into the camera and you’re on your way,” she said.

SITA is providing the technology to perform the trial, enabling the photos taken at the boarding gate to integrate with both CBP and JetBlue systems. “If successful, the program will show how technology can make the boarding process simple and seamless for the traveler while enhancing US national security through the implementation of biometric exit,” JetBlue said.

CBP Office of Field Operations deputy executive assistant commissioner John Wagner added, “By transforming current business operations, airlines and airports will have the opportunity to use verified biometrics to ensure a seamless and consistent process for travelers.”

SITA chief technology officer Jim Peters said, “This biometric self-boarding program for JetBlue and the CBP is designed to be easy to use. What we want to deliver is a secure and seamless passenger experience … This is the first integration of biometric authorization by the CBP with an airline and may prove to be a solution that will be quick and easy to roll out across US airports.”

Inset: JetBlue’s first-of-its-kind self-boarding program uses facial recognition. Photo: Business Wire

Aaron Karp