Alaska Airlines Test Replaces Boarding Passes with Fingerprints
Alaska Airlines just completed a test program that allowed passengers to use their fingerprints instead of government-issued IDs and boarding passes to drop off their bags, pass through the security checkpoint and board their planes.
With the help of 200 volunteer frequent fliers, the Seattle-based carrier just completed a test program at Mineta San Jose International Airport that allowed passengers to use their fingerprints instead of government-issued IDs and boarding passes to drop off their bags, pass through the security checkpoint and board their planes, reported USA Today.
Alaska chose San Jose as the test site because it's an early adopter community, there are a lot of tech-savvy commuters who fly regularly and because it has the CLEAR program in place, said USA Today.
For the test, Alaska employees approached some passengers at the airport with an invitation to participate. Others received invites via email. No fees were required to be part of the test, which began enrolling participants in April and concluded this week.
"Our vision is simplify the day of travel and have a customer get from their car, through the airport and to their seat without having to pull out a government-issued ID," said Jerry Tolzman, Alaska Airlines' customer R&D manager.
"The feedback was very positive," said Tolzman. "On a survey scale of 'dissatisfied' to 'delighted' over 85 percent of the participants were delighted with the system."
This isn't the first time Alaska Airlines has used biometrics to give passengers a bit of special treatment, USA Today said. In 2014, the airline asked 10,000 customers with Board Room lounge memberships if they'd like to use their fingerprints to gain expedited access to lounge rooms in Seattle, Anchorage, Portland and Los Angeles at no extra cost. Eight thousand members said yes immediately and customers are still enrolling.
And while the technology has been tested in some European airports and is being touted by many as a way to improve security, "we really wanted to learn about the ease and simplicity of not having to have your boarding pass and your government issued ID," said Tolzman, "that you could just use your fingerprint."
Paul Brady, the consumer news editor at Conde Nast Traveler, told CBS News that he thought the system would be a hit with travelers.
"Very cool, very cool," he said. "Anytime an airline is making the travel process easier, I'm in favor of that."
But Brady said there are still kinks to be worked out, including security concerns that the system could be breached or that fingerprints could be spoofed, CBS News said. And more prosaically, how do you remember your seat number without a boarding pass?
Then there's the question of the airline's ability to ramp up the service beyond a few hundred passengers. "With a 200-person trial, it worked without a hitch. Four out of five people loved it," Brady said. "What are you going to do when millions of travelers are trying to use this same system? Is it going to work the same? That is what Alaska is going to have to figure out."
But not all are convinced in this high-tech system as some experts warned that is is possible for people to trick the scanners by placing a replica of another person's fingerprint on top of their own. A security research Jan Krissler, who is employed by Telekom Innovation Laboratories and who has a history in the biometrics, last year proved that duping the system is possible.
It was in December when Krissler revealed a "clone" of the thumb print of German defense minister Ursula von der Leyer which he had created using pictures of the politicians hand with a commercial fingerprint software for Verifinger, Daily Mail reported.
But John Huggins, the Executive Director of UC Berkeley's Sensor and Activator Center said that while the finger print scanners could be fooled, the fingerprint ultrasound scanning would penetrate skin and detect pores and blood vessels making it hard to manipulate.