D.C. Airport Surprises Passengers with Facial-Recognition Boarding

Some international travelers can leave their boarding passes and passports in their pockets when flying out of Dulles International Airport thanks to a new facial recognition boarding technology that went into operation Thursday.

The new veriScan system developed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority—with guidance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection—scans the faces of travelers approaching the gate. The system then compares the photo to a gallery that includes images of that person—either their passport photo for U.S. citizens or the photo taken of foreign nationals when they entered the country. The process eliminates the need for an airline employee to manually check every boarding pass and passport while boarding a plane.

The scan takes fractions of a second and has shown to be 99 percent accurate during testing, according to CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who was joined by MWAA President Jack Potter and airline representatives for an unveiling event Thursday.

CBP had been keeping the photos for up to 14 days during testing, and will continue to keep them for up to 12 hours for the short term, said John Wagner, CBP deputy assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations. When testing is complete, the process will be updated so photos are deleted immediately after the comparison, he said.

Officials touted the additional security the system provides—meeting a Congressional mandate to include biometric screenings—as well as the benefits to travelers, who can expect a much faster boarding process.Get the latest federal technology news delivered to your inbox.
email“This spring, Lufthansa announced that it boarded an A380 with over 350 passengers at LAX in less than 20 minutes—less than half of their normal time—using self-boarding gates linked to CBP’s facial-enabled traveler verification service,” McAleenan said. “No more fumbling with your boarding pass while you have two carry-ons, maybe a kid; no more trying to find your QR code or trying to refresh your screen.”

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