Fingerprints could get you on a plane faster in the near future

10/30/2014

A simple fingerprint might help you board a flight more quickly in the near future but it will take more than a special touch to make it work. The real challenge will be convincing airport security authorities that it can replace the various forms of identification currently accepted for travel.

In the United States, Alaska Airlines is testing fingerprint technology as a form of identification that would allow passengers to board their flights faster among a myriad of other possible uses. The use biometrics is certainly not new but the application of technology that uses unique identifiers of the human body opens up new ways to streamline many mundane processes, especially at the airport where anything that can make things go faster is welcome news to flyers.

You might recall that technology giant Apple introduced a version of its popular iPhone that lets owners unlock their devices using their own fingerprints. Known as Touch ID, the company says that using fingerprints is a very secure way to replace a password since no two prints are alike. The airlines are taking notes, since the ubiquitous smartphone seems to be the technology bridge that airlines like to use to make it easier to interact with passengers. From ticket purchasing to boarding, passengers are finding that their devices are slowly taking the place of the paper items generated during a typical airline journey. Airlines like Alaska are hoping to convince security agencies that fingerprints can be just as secure as a piece of government issued identification. This might not be too difficult a task. Airport security agencies throughout the world use biometrics in order to grant access to secure areas and even use face scanning and recognition technology in public areas with more frequency. Over the last several years, some popular notebook computers have also featured finger scanning technology in lieu of passwords but users have not warmed up to such usage in the same way they have with their smartphones.

In order for fingerprints to be a viable and foolproof option, Alaska Airlines will have to gain approval from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The carrier tells Seattle news station KOMO that the technology can be used for more than just boarding, including bag drop locations and other airport checkpoints. Alaska Airlines says that the actual fingerprint is not stored anywhere, instead an encrypted series of alpha numeric characters is used to represent the fingerprint, similar to the technology behind Apple's Touch ID.

Currently, the airline is gauging passenger feedback by installing a device at one of its frequent flyer lounges at the Sea-Tac Airport.