American Airlines Begins Biometric Boarding in Dallas, Plans to Install It at 75 Gates

Aug 27, 2019

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At the end of 2018, American Airlines began testing biometric boarding at one gate in Los Angeles (LAX). It’s been nearly nine months since then with little news from AA about its plans to expand biometric boarding, but that ended this week with big news.

Since Aug. 13, AA passengers on select international flights have been using biometric boarding to board at the carrier’s largest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). The airline currently has the process installed at three gates in its international Terminal D (gates D25, D27 and D29). However, American has big plans to expand this biometric boarding process to “nearly 75 international gates” across Terminals A, B, C and D by the end of 2019.

According to an airline spokesperson, AA plans to use biometric boarding only for international flights “for now.” That response leaves the door open for biometric boarding to be used for domestic flights in the future.

Biometric boarding eliminates the need for airline gate agents to scan each passenger’s boarding pass and check each passenger’s passport. Instead, as a passenger approaches the boarding podium, photos are captured and immediately transmitted to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for verification.

If the passenger’s photo matches photos in CBP’s database, the passenger is given clearance to board the flight.

If the system doesn’t find a match, the passenger is prompted to see the agent and the agent is prompted to do a manual check of the passenger’s passport and boarding pass.

American assures passengers that “no customer biometrics will ever be stored.” However, passengers with privacy concerns are able to opt out of the process and board manually using their boarding pass and passport.

In American’s press release about the process at DFW, the airline specifies that “customers with a US passport may also choose not to use the new system.” An American spokesperson confirmed that foreign passport holders will be required to use the biometric boarding process and don’t have the option of opting out.

It will be interesting to see what — if any — tweaks American Airlines made to the process from when Katie and I tried it out for ourselves in December 2018. We just so happened to be flying through LAX on an international flight on the second day of AA’s “pilot program” there.

With AA’s blessing, we observed the entire planeload of passengers board before trying it out ourselves. While it generally was a smooth process, we pointed out  that AA could improve the process by adjusting the lighting and having a mark on the floor to give passengers an idea of where to walk to.

Also, for international flights, gate agents need to stay diligent about checking that passengers have their passports on them. If a passenger forgets his or her passport in the US, the airline could face fines from the destination country. Sure enough, the press release about this expansion is sure to note that “agents will continue to ensure customers have their passports with them before departing.”

All photos by the author.

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