Internet Travel Monitor - Marketing, Research & Tech
January 31, 2018
How Biometrics Could Speed Airline Boarding, Stop Stowaways
In December of last year, a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo on All Nippon Airways was sent back to LAX after three hours in the air when cabin crew discovered a stowaway on board.
The unauthorized passenger, who was ticketed on a United L.A.-to-Tokyo flight leaving about the same time as ANA’s Flight 175, used a duplicate ANA boarding pass issued to his brother, who was ticketed on ANA, to board ANA’s flight rather than flying on United. Perhaps the stowaway wanted to experience ANA's amenities, or maybe he just wanted to travel with his brother. In any case, 208 passengers flew 4,000 miles round-trip from Los Angeles to Los Angeles.
Needless to say, this was a huge embarrassment for ANA and probably cost the airline hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted fuel, lost revenue and compensation to passengers. Exactly how could a passenger be allowed to board a flight he was not ticketed on? Don’t the gate agents scan a boarding pass and check to make sure the name on a pass matches the name and photo in the passenger’s passport? And even if they don’t match the boarding pass with the passport, shouldn’t an attempted scan of a duplicate boarding pass set off an alarm of some sort? Apparently not, at least in this case.
And perhaps that’s one reason why airlines are teaming with their airport partners to take the human element out of the boarding process. On Jan. 18, British Airways demonstrated the first use of purely biometric boarding on a flight departing from the U.S. I was invited to watch passengers boarding BA’s Flight 280, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, from LAX to Heathrow, without needing to show a passport or boarding pass. In fewer than 20 minutes, all 180 passengers were on the plane.
Each passenger walked up to one of four scanners, looked into a camera for a couple of seconds, and passed through a gate. A couple of passengers weren’t recognized by the software, and were checked manually, as were those in wheelchairs or needing special assistance.
Not only does biometric boarding provide better security compared to traditional boarding procedures — eliminating the kind of human error apparently present in the ANA incident — but because there were four scanners the process goes much faster than the alternative, which usually involves two gate agents manually checking documents, dealing with passengers who might have misplaced boarding passes, and fumbling with passports to find the photo page.
“Safety and security is at the core of biometric facial recognition technology, and British Airways has been working closely in partnership with the Customs and Border Protection Agency and the US government to develop and approve the scheme,” the airline said in a statement.
But there are other advantages as well. Quicker boarding means less time on the ground, which could lead to faster turnaround times and more cost-efficient utilization of aircraft and gates. And as this technology spreads worldwide, which it will eventually, it will allow airlines and airports to reduce staffing.
A spokesperson for Vision-Box, the company that builds this biometric scanning technology, told me that in the foreseeable future an airline passenger’s entire journey — from check-in, through airport security, and at immigration upon arrival — will be completely automated with biometric scanning. Your face will be your passport to the world.
As for the two brothers who were apparently so close that they couldn’t bear to be separated even for a few hours, they may face criminal charges. Being a stowaway on a flight is punishable with up to five years in prison, and ANA could face hefty fines for failing to do an accurate headcount before the plane’s doors were closed.
Copyright 2017 Gannett. All rights reserved. From https://www.usatoday.com.
By George Hobica, Special to USA TODAY.
To view the Internet Travel Monitor Archive, click https://www.tripinfo.com/ITM/index.html.