Biometric screening for airlines and airports has arrived, initially introduced in movies as a thing of the future; facial recognition cameras are in airports worldwide, improving security and efficiencies for the aviation industry.

The cameras can help find missing people, protect the airlines from fraud by ensuring that the individual boarding the airplane is the individual who purchased the ticket, strengthen security measures to ensure compliance with TSA and U.S. Customs regulations, and reduce touch points.

Facial recognition automates identification verification for airlines and government agencies. Delta Airlines installed biometric facial recognition in 2018 at the Atlanta International Airport, using facial recognition cameras to expedite boarding, reduce passenger stress and eliminate the need for customers to print a boarding pass. Gate agents do not have to handle the boarding passes or touch customer telephones, reducing concerns about spreading infectious diseases. American, JetBlue, and a few international airlines soon rolled out facial recognition cameras for international flights. Delta has since expanded biometric facial recognition cameras throughout its system, and customers are pleased.

Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport has installed biometric cameras at their Customs checkpoints and select boarding gates. The airport has 30 cameras that allow Colombian nationals to enroll their iris data before leaving the country. Upon their return, they enter their national I.D. number on a touchscreen and then look at the iris reader, and the immigration entry process is complete. I have experienced the simplicity and speed while using the cameras at El Dorado Airport and found it efficient and the lines at the checkpoints reduced.

Catha Pacific Airways partnered with Vision-Box, a technology company in Lisbon, Portugal, to implement a Seamless Flow boarding platform for passengers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The platform uses facial recognition technology to identify travelers while eliminating the need to hold your documentation in hand. The process has improved the flow of people through the airport. The cameras are at baggage drop-off, customs and boarding.

In October of 2021, Emirates integrated a “biometric path” into its facilities at Dubai International airport so that passengers would have a contactless experience when traveling through its terminals. The cameras have improved passenger flow through the airport by requiring fewer document checks and reduced lines, starting at specific check-in areas and boarding gates.

The biometric path uses facial and iris recognition technology to verify passengers’ identity when they check in, enter immigration, enter an Emirates lounge and then board their flight. One of the benefits of biometric access is creating a more hygienic, contactless way to move through the airport.

The Tampa Florida International Airport recently began installing cameras in the United States to improve efficiency, safety, and convenience during boarding.

“By 2024, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has mandated that all U.S. international flights use biometric scanners,” Tampa Airport I.T. Analyst David Golden said in an airport press release in July. Golden said the systems Tampa Airport has been implementing will replace, in many cases, the traditional boarding pass scanners.”

How does facial recognition work when traveling internationally to and from the United States? As the passenger arrives at the Customs and Border protection primary inspection area or departure gate, the camera compares the traveler’s photo to images on file with CBP, such as passport photo, mobile passport control app and Global entry. Upon identity verification, the gate opens to allow the passenger to board. This process eliminates the physical verification process of their passport by airline personnel and is more accurate and secure. The scanner can prevent piggybacking and be modified for those in a wheelchair.

International travelers are fingerprinted when they enter the United States, slowing the immigration process. With the new facial recognition cameras, international travelers can smile and are cleared promptly. The camera will also prevent fraudulent use of other identities and alert CBP if a passenger has multiple names and passports registered under their photo.

Customs and Border Protection has already implemented facial biometric cameras at all 32 international airports in the U. S. and those pre-clearance locations outside the U.S. CBP reports the system has processed 211 million travelers and denied entry to 1600 individuals using false or assumed identities.

CBP is partnering with TSA, the airlines and airports to implement a secure, stand- alone system that can be integrated into the boarding process for domestic travel. The program will verify the I.D. of travelers through their air travel journey, from check-in, bag drop, security checkpoint and boarding. The curb-to-gate process is being tested at Atlanta Hartsfield and Detroit International Airport in partnership with Delta Airlines and CBP.

The program is voluntary and passengers can request to be manually screened if they do not want to participate in the facial recognition program.

Biometric technology speeds up the boarding process; a plane carrying approximately 130 passengers will be able to board in 11 minutes. An aircraft’s current average boarding time is 30 to 35 minutes.

The FBI states that human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry, alleging more than 24.9 million innocent victims each year, many of whom are women and children. Cases of trafficking spike in major cities around large-scale events. An increased risk of sex trafficking is seen around sporting events like the Superbowl.

Facial recognition cameras at the airport will help identify victims traveling under altered documents, common trick traffickers use.

Florida-based SAFEsky is working with a German technology company to develop a software program that will communicate with airline reservation systems that identify reservations of suspected trafficking victims. As the victim looks at the biometric system, an alert can be sent to the airline personnel to verify the passenger’s identity or, if necessary, request law enforcement assistance.

Boarding an airline should be fun, not stressful. The biometric cameras will improve boarding efficiency by reducing the time in line and eliminating the fumbling of cell phones as you try to scan your boarding pass.

Frederick Reitz is the Managing Director of SAFEsky Inc. Established in 2006, SAFEsky provides aviation security training and consulting around the globe.