Technology

Soon you may board a plane or buy a meal with just a face scan. You OK with that?

Get your face scanned before boarding a plane

DFW and other airports soon may scan the faces of international passengers as a form of identification. It's a technology called biometrics, and someday it may be used in many businesses.
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DFW and other airports soon may scan the faces of international passengers as a form of identification. It's a technology called biometrics, and someday it may be used in many businesses.

International travelers at DFW Airport soon may be boarding flights by having their faces scanned by a computer, rather than showing a passport at the gate.

The technology is known as biometrics.

It’s a practice in which a person is identified by digital measurements of their bodies, such as facial features or fingerprints.

And, the technology isn’t just for airports. At a Marriott hotel in Hangzhou, China, guests can check in and pay for their room simply by having their face scanned at a lobby kiosk.

In Japan, customers in a major shopping district can now buy goods at many stores and restaurants simply by pressing their thumb against a checkout scanner (their fingerprint and credit card must first be linked in a database.)

“You don’t even need your wallet to go out,” said Xi Leung, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas in Denton. She teaches classes in the College of Merchandising Hospitality and Tourism, and has developed expertise in how the industry is using technology to improve marketing and business management.

Leung said she showed a video of the Marriott face-scanning process to her class, and got a mixed reaction.

“For any technology, there’s always a good side and a bad side,” Leung said. “Some of my students were very excited about it. I do have others who were worried about security issues and privacy, also.”

How the technology may grow

Some officials say it could be years before biometric authentication is in widespread use, particularly in the United States, where many consumers are concerned about hacking and identity theft.

At DFW Airport, the rollout of biometrics may still be a few months away, airport officials said. Once biometrics equipment is installed, the scanning will be performed on travelers boarding international flights, in a test program with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Customs and Border Protection officials have been directed by Congress to implement biometrics at U.S. ports of entry, including border crossings and international airports.

First, DFW must hire a vendor to install and maintain the machinery.

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An American Airlines passenger undergoes a biometric face scan before boarding a flight earlier this year at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo courtesy of American Airlines

A similar pilot program began in January at Los Angeles International Airport. Fort Worth-based American Airlines and British Airways are using the users of the machines at LAX, airport spokesman Charles Pannunzio said.

“This is still considered to be in testing, with nine airlines now participating,” Pannunzio said in an email. “There are three units in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, (and) each has 4 lanes.”

The technology hasn’t actually replaced old-fashioned identification documents at LAX. For example, travelers must still present an ID card at the TSA checkpoints, and also must keep a copy of their boarding pass as proof of their seating assignment.

For now, the face-scanning is only replacing the practice by airlines of asking international travelers to present their passports just before boarding the aircraft.

“This affects only the boarding process,” Pannunzio said. “Their face is matched to the database (no boarding pass or ID) and the gate then opens.”

The LAX pilot program is mainly to demonstrate the accuracy and ease-of-use of the scanning equipment. The developer of the technology used at LAX is Portugal-based Vision-Box.

Airlines are encouraged by the early results of the face scanners.

“We are currently testing biometric boarding at LAX and continue to evaluate the potential use of the technology at additional hubs,” said Andrea Koos, American spokeswoman.

Biometrics technology isn’t necessarily new.

Six Flags Over Texas began using finger scanning to admit season ticket holders in 2014. Guests at the amusement park who don’t wish to take part in the fingerprint biometrics can opt out and use an old-fashioned photo ID season pass - although park officials warn that additional waiting time for admission could be required.

Leung can envision a day when biometrics is used to measure customers’ facial expressions while visiting businesses, using surveillance cameras. It’s not difficult to imagine that the technology will be able to read peoples’ moods in the not-too-distant future, she said.

“You can go through all those videos and watch out which restaurants have happy customers,” she said, “and which have sad customers.”

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.


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