This past week, I made my last business trip of 2018. This trip involved traveling out of the country, to Latin America and I was impressed with the technology I encountered leaving and returning to the United States.
You may have read articles over the last year about some airlines and airports introducing biometric passenger verification systems to ease the boarding process. For many, boarding a flight is often the most stressful part of the trip, with hordes of people crowding the boarding area, making it difficult for some, to board at their designated time. Once you are lucky enough to get to the gate agent, many passengers fumble to unfold a crumpled boarding pass or pull up the electronic one on their phone.
Last week, at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, I encountered jetBlue’s facial recognition boarding process. While some people still insisted on crowing the entry to a very clearly defined boarding lane, the technology enabled process definitely seemed to make the boarding process flow more efficiently and it did seem to lessen the number of people crowding the boarding area.
I was impressed with how well this system worked. You walk to a predefined spot in the boarding lane and stand on a mat with your feet on the shoe outlines on the mat, much like you encounter in a TSA body scanner. You look at what seems to be a small tablet, it takes your photo and you are quickly presented with a green check mark to board or a red check mark, which directs you to the gate agent. The system performs a highly complex technical task in about the same or possibly less time than it takes the typical boarding pass scanner to scan your boarding pass. I did not encounter any delays as a result of this system. A few people were redirected to the agent and they smoothly moved over to the agent while the next person in line stepped up for their photo. My experience showed less bottleneck in the boarding line as a result.
These systems check government databases to match faces to password and other Customs and Border Protection databases to ensure the person is who they present themselves as. This is a very effective check and balance when tracking individuals who come and go from the country. I find it far more reliable that the paper forms of the current and past, which notoriously get lost and are far too manual to track effectively.
While there are benefits to the technology, it’s not without potential faults. Privacy advocates have a lot of concerns that facial and other biometric databases may be misused by law enforcement. This is certainly possible and everyone needs to consider their own feelings on this issue. With the amount of video surveillance legally in use around the world, I consider this to be a fact of modern, connected life. One can only hope that the benefits will vastly outweigh the risks. I tend to take a fairly simplistic view of this technology. Meaning, if you have nothing to hide, I don’t think this should be a concern.
The other technology I used was Global Entry, upon re-entry to the United States. Similar to facial recognition for boarding, Global Entry leverages biometric technology, again facial recognition, to take a photo of your face and look you up in the Customs and Border Protection databases to verify you identity, eligibility for entry into the United States and significantly speed your entry process. Instead of having to wait in the long serpentine immigration line, to have your passport examined by an officer, you walk up to a kiosk, have your picture taken and present the printed receipt to an immigration officer to clear your entry. Fast, efficient and reliable.
No doubt 2019 will bring even more technical innovation to the travel experience. I hope you will keep an open mind and explore taking advantage of these developments to make your travel experience more efficient and most importantly, more safe.