What It’s Like Using Biometric Boarding

Depending on when you grew up, you probably pictured the future as flying cars, holograms, and teleportation. Unfortunately, most of those things still haven’t come to pass. However, that doesn’t mean that crazy technology doesn’t exist. A few weeks ago, I had my first experience with biometric boarding. I can safely say, the future is here and its a strange, scary place.

The Process

On an evening flight from Detroit to London, I found out that we’d be using biometric boarding. The process wasn’t really explained by our gate agents, but it’s pretty intuitive. You walk up to a monitor, stare at it for a second, and proceed to the plane.

For the most part, the biometric screening process worked well, but was slightly clunky from the priority lane. The way boarding was setup, the priority lane was slightly further from the podium than the standard boarding lane. As a result, passengers were often too far from the screen to have it recognize them. Thankfully, the boarding agent caught on a few passengers in and instructed the rest of the passengers on where to stand.

Since this was an international flight, I assumed there would be a passport check at the gate as well. That wasn’t the case here. You just looked into the camera and two seconds later, a receipt printed out with my name and seat number. Crazy stuff man.

There aren’t any additional passport, boarding pass, or document checks. You simply grab your receipt and continue on down the jetway.

Impressions

When I finally sat down in my seat and had a minute to decompress (with a beverage of course), I still wasn’t really sure how I felt about the whole thing. I basically ended up with three common thoughts: this is cool, scary, and somewhat unnecessary all at the same time.

What made this cool? Well to a simple guy like me, it’s insane that this type of technology actually exists. Think about it for a second. In just a few seconds, a machine was able to see my face, recognize it across a database of millions of people, and match that to my seat. I’m sure there are people much smarter than me that don’t consider this anything special, but consider my mind blown. 🤯 

Will Smith in Enemy of the State (image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures)

At the same time, what makes this technology so cool makes it equally terrifying. I’m not sure that I was even looking at the monitor face-on before being recognized. If we’re being honest, we don’t really have all that much privacy anymore. How many things do we agree to the terms and conditions without thinking twice? That’s not me being paranoid, that’s just a fact. If you sign up for global entry, you’re already submitting your biometrics. What’s crazy is that this works for everyone. It makes you think that movies like Enemy of the State and Eagle Eye aren’t that far from reality anymore.

While biometric boarding is absolutely a huge technological acheivement, I can’t help but feel like its also a bit unnecessary. Why? Simply put, it’s not all that much quicker than standard boarding. At least in this instance, biometric boarding sped up the process a little by eliminating the need for passport checks. However, that time was given right back by needing to have passengers step closer to the camera. I’m sure if this becomes more commonplace people will adjust to it. Then again, how many times do we still see people not having their ID or boarding pass out at security?

In the case of domestic flights, I just can’t see this being beneficial at all. People still had to stand at the monitor, wait, and then grab their receipt. That’s not to say it’s any slower. It’s just not remarkably quicker than scanning your phone or boarding pass currently.

Final Thoughts

The future is here and we’re just living in it. Biometric boarding just shows how far we’ve come from gate agents tearing paper boarding passes. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like this is just a case of “using technology for the sake of using technology”. Maybe I’m wrong though. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this subject.

What are your thoughts on biometric boarding?

Author: Stephen Hoechst

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