American Airlines’ app can now scan your passport

Dec 4, 2019

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Mobile apps have undoubtedly made travel a smoother process. They allow even minimally tech-savvy travelers to avoid some lines and cut down on the documents they need to keep track of.

For international travelers though, the apps have had some limits. Though most airlines allow passengers headed to destinations in other countries to check in on their devices, an in-person passport check was still often required prior to boarding.

But American Airlines has announced an update to its app that would eliminate that step.

Passengers can now scan the data chip embedded in their passports using the built-in reader on iPhones or Android’s devices. Using the app to scan the chip — technically known as the Near Field Communication (NFC) chip — means travelers can self-verify their passport and won’t need to have it checked at the airport.

American said it is the first airline to introduce the function on its app.

(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

“We are continuously adding features to our app to make travel easier and worry-free for our customers,” Maya Leibman, American’s chief information officer, said in a Wednesday statement. “Mobile passport scanning removes a time-consuming step, providing our customers with a smoother check-in experience for international flights.”

The updated app provides on-screen instructions to help customers complete the scan correctly.

According to Andrea Koos, a spokeswoman for the airline, only a small percentage of app users will see the new feature Wednesday, but it will roll out to all users in the coming days.

Koos also said that there are a few limitations on the feature right now. Currently, it will only work for single-traveler itineraries, but the functionality will be expanded to work for multi-passenger ones in a future update.

In addition, Koos said that during testing the airline realized that some frequent travelers may have broken the chips in their passport — those who didn’t heed the warning on the last page that says in bold type, “This document contains sensitive electronics. For best performance, do not bend, perforate or expose to extreme temperatures.”

American Airlines passport scanning preview. (Image courtesy of American Airlines.)
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

While passengers carrying a passport from any country may use the feature, Koos said some countries may not embed NFC chips into their documents. Others embed them in locations other than where the U.S. does (behind the back cover of the document). So, she said, users with other kinds of passports may need to experiment with different scanning locations for the best performance, or may not be able to use the feature if their booklet doesn’t have the right technology.

American’s last major app update, which came out earlier this fall, introduced push notifications for boarding.

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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