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Report: Biometrics in Air Travel Could Hit ‘Tipping Point’ in 2024

Imagine boarding an airplane by showing your face instead of showing your ID.

That scenario could soon be a reality, according to experts quoted in a Sunday (Feb. 18) New York Times (NYT) report on the increased use of facial recognition and other biometric technology in the travel sector.

Among those experts is Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research, who said 2024 could mark the “tipping point” for the widespread use of biometrics in air travel.

That would mean, Harteveldt added, that time-consuming aspects of air travel — security screening, boarding a plane, dropping off luggage — could soon require people to simply show their faces, thus “helping to reduce waiting times and stress for travelers.” 

The report said that major U.S. airlines, along with government aviation security agencies, are increasingly investing in facial recognition technology. And a growing number of international airports in other countries have begun employing biometrics at immigration and customs.

But while the adoption of the tech may mean more security and streamlined processing for passengers, the NYT said it also has led to privacy and ethical concerns.

For example, Dr. Morgan Klaus Scheuerman, a University of Colorado researcher in the field of ethics of artificial intelligence and digital identity, said many questions have emerged about the airport biometric use. How are the systems being trained? Would people who want to opt out of facial recognition be considered a red flag?

“I’m sure many people feel powerless to stop the trajectory,” Scheuerman said.

As noted here last year, concerns such as these have led U.S. lawmakers to propose the Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act (TPPA) which would revoke the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) permission to use facial recognition screening at airports.

That followed the TSA’s announcement that it was piloting a recognition program at 16 U.S. airports. While the agency maintained that participation in the program was voluntary, critics raised concerns about the misuse of the technology and the collection of personal data.

However, research by PYMNTS Intelligence and AWS finds that consumers are comfortable with biometric use, at least when it comes to making payments.

That study found that more than half of consumers who bought things online used biometric tools to authenticate their transactions. 

“These include facial recognition and fingerprint scans, the two most popular biometric methods adopted by 28% and 49% of consumers, respectively,” PYMNTS wrote. “The study also revealed that nearly 60% of facial recognition users use the method more than once weekly.”