Alaska Airlines Seeks Competitive Edge with Biometric Scanning

Biometric Border Control

Alaska Airlines’ new “e-thumb” initiative could lead to a substantially faster experience for passengers checking in.

US air carrier Alaska Airlines is exploring the use of fingerprint-scanning technology at its terminals, according to Bloomberg’s Julie Johnsson. The company hopes that such biometric technology could provide security while also cutting wait times for passengers.

The new “e-thumb” initiative could lead to a substantially faster experience for passengers checking in, according to one industry analyst cited by Johnsson, while another is quoted as making the very reasonable observation that “[a]ir travel is about moving quickly and yet airports are of the places where travelers seem to move the slowest.”

The airline is hoping that reducing passengers’ wait times will make it a more attractive option for travelers, and indeed it has made technologically advanced ease of travel a cornerstone of its marketing strategy, having been a pioneer in the realm of online ticketing in the 90’s and wireless check-in in the early 2000s, not to mention last year’s introduction of mobile payment via Google Wallet. Now, having tested fingerprint-scanners in its frequent flier lounges, the company wants to push ahead with other applications such as at the boarding door or the bag check-in.

“We don’t want to take our foot off the gas,” said one executive.

It could be a tough slog, though. The TSA (America’s federal Transportation Security Administration) will subject any such plans to exhaustive security testing – the same process that took a year to complete for the TSA’s PreCheck program, which offers fast-tracking for pre-approved passengers. Still, it’s worth noting that the TSA recently opened the door to partnerships with private biometric security providers such as CLEAR, with whom it already has a working relationship, so there appears to be some room to maneuver in this area. And while previous attempts at biometric security integration have not been successful – Britain began such a project about a decade ago only to abandon it in 2008 – the technology is advancing quickly and its appeal seems to be growing, with India looking into biometric check-ins at its major railway stations and Singapore considering applying the technology at its airports.

October 10, 2014 – by Alex Perala