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Heathrow Airport: From Glacial to Facial Recognition

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 12:35

Travelers flying out of London’s Heathrow this summer will be able to check in and board their flight without showing a passport or boarding pass.

The United Kingdom’s largest airport has announced plans for an immediate and full-scale roll out of a facial-recognition system costing approximately $65 million. In a press release, airport officials claimed this revolutionary biometric technology could reduce the average passenger’s journey time by up to a third.

As one of the world’s busiest airport, servicing an estimated 80 million passengers annually, Heathrow’s border entry and exit process has often been called glacial. With the new technology, however, passengers will be able to move through check-in, bag drops, security lanes, and boarding gates without breaking their stride. When a passenger shows up at check-in, the system will take a digital image of their face, comparing it to the one on their scanned passport, and tying it to their flight details. When it is time to go through security, and later to board the aircraft, facial recognition will be used to open automated gates rather than requiring a passenger to scan a barcode or show a boarding pass to an official. According to Heathrow officials, facial biometrics are more accurate than manual checks and offer increased security.

Although this is the biggest single deployment of biometric technology in the world, Heathrow is not the first to use facial recognition: Shanghai’s Hongqiao rolled out a similar biometrics check-in system in October, while here in the United States, it is under­going trials at about 15 international airports, including those in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C. So far in the U.S., Delta, JetBlue, British Airways, Lufthansa, and American Airlines are equipped to support the new technology.

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