Star Alliance plans to introduce network-wide biometric technology in 2020

Oct 15, 2019

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Star Alliance is looking to provide passengers with more seamless and technologically advanced journeys. The world’s largest global alliance featuring 26 airlines — formerly 27, before Adria Airways filed for bankruptcy earlier this month — including founding members Lufthansa, United, Thai, SAS and Air Canada, plans to use biometric technology to make the passenger experience more efficient.

Speaking at the Star Alliance MegaDo in Frankfurt on Monday, Jeffrey Goh, CEO of Star Alliance, and Christian Draeger, Star Alliance VP of customer experience, outlined further details of the alliance’s plans for the future of biometrics. The final solution, which has yet to be named, promises passengers a simple registration process that will involve one enrollment via a member airlines’ app or website.

After uploading a selfie, passengers will be able to verify their identify via an online service or at the airport. Once fully set up, Star Alliance aims to allow passengers to check-in, drop luggage at kiosks, pass through security, access lounges and board the airplane simply via cameras and facial recognition. There will be no need for physical boarding passes, booking references or any other paperwork.

Passengers will only need to enroll once in the GDPR-compliant scheme, and they will have the ability to choose in which regions their biometric information can be used. Such flexibility on consent on where the data can be used is aimed at overcoming concerns that the data could fall into the wrong hands in parts of the world where confidence in data security is lower. The alliance promises full protection of data via encryption of the selfie and personal data. Star Alliance will hold the data and participating airlines will be charged on a per-usage basis.

Star Alliance signed on to develop this solution with its technology partner NEC in July, and it’s also pushing the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to develop standards in order to increase global interoperability and allow adoption by others outside of Star Alliance.

Speaking at MegaDo on Monday, Goh said the initiative fits with the alliance’s strategy of shifting the focus from membership growth to enhancing the digital customer experience. Whilst he acknowledged that the role of alliances for airlines might have changed following Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian saying that the airline hasn’t gotten great value from membership of the SkyTeam alliance, he believes that technology is the glue for alliances and forms the basis for airlines to further cooperate further.

Air New Zealand Airbus A320
(Photo courtesy of Star Alliance)

The focus for the alliance is on interoperability between all carriers. Airport hubs will be the first to get the technology, which is targeted for a March 2020 launch. The alliance is aiming to get at least two additional airports equipped with the tech in 2020.

The alliance has larger ambitions to roll out its system to non-airline partners such as hotels, rental cars, duty-free shops and more.

Star Alliance isn’t the first commercial aviation player to invest in biometric technology. KLM began testing facial recognition for boarding in 2017, Delta Air Lines has been using the tech for boarding and more around the U.S. and British Airways tested biometric boarding in Los Angeles (LAX). Star Alliance carrier Lufthansa has also invested in the technology itself. In 2018, the carrier used facial recognition to board 350 passengers on an A380 in about 20 minutes.

Featured photo by Federico Gambarini/Getty Images.

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