Spirit Airlines Sees A Future In Biometric Technology

Spirit Airlines has been pulling out all the stops to return to flying in a safe and healthy manner. While there are still some challenges to be overcome, its CEO Ted Christie has hinted that more investments are coming. Along with self-service baggage administration and a newly refurbished cabin, the airline is looking to biometric technology to keep its guests safe and well.

Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines is in a testing phase of biometric technology. Photo: Getty Images

In the test phase

With an increasing need to keep passengers at arm’s length and to provide a more touchless experience, Spirit Airlines is eyeing biometric technology for a safer and healthier future. In the recent Future Travel Experience webinar, Spirit’s CEO Ted Christie said,

“We’re always trying to set the bar and then clear it. I gave a teaser a little bit earlier about some of the work we’re doing with self bag drop and self bag tag. I think we’re going to be moving ahead with a lot of biometric benefits too, and while we’re in the test phase on that, we’re excited about what we’re seeing.

“That’s going to make that whole experience at the airport even more seamless, so I don’t know if I’m ready yet to drop any bombs [yet], but you never know what we’re going to do at any given point.”

It makes sense, given all Spirit is already doing to help passengers feel safe, that this would be the ideal next step. Passengers expect it too. A recent report by Fast Future, Future Travel Experience (FTE), and the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) found that more than three-quarters (77.4%) expect to see increased adoption of “touchless” biometrics to verify passenger identity.

Spirit self bag tag
Spirit already uses self bag handling facilities to minimize passenger contact. Photo: Spirit Airlines

The increasing importance of biometrics in the post-COVID world

During the recent FlightPlan event, jointly hosted by Inmarsat and APEX, Tony Chapman, Senior Director of Product Management and Strategy at Collins Aerospace, explained how biometrics solutions will provide greater confidence for passengers seeking social distancing and safety measures during the travel experience.

Chapman explains in his presentation just how far biometrics could go. With the right support from airports at both ends of the journey and the airline itself, this technology has the potential to provide an end-to-end touchless journey.

Passengers could enroll in the service at their home via their smartphone, and from that point on, there would be no need to produce a boarding pass or passport at any stage of the trip. Airport security, check-in, bag drop, and lounge access could all be built-in, as well as boarding and even payment for buy onboard items.

Not only would this inspire confidence in passengers that they can achieve a contactless journey, but it would also improve efficiency throughout the trip too. In a world where we’re trying to stay six feet away from strangers, this ‘single token’ travel method could serve to reduce congestion and make social distancing in airports a far more realistic prospect.

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What would Spirit need to launch biometrics for its service?

While biometric transit is not an entirely new concept, it’s yet to really gain traction widely in the US. To implement biometric boarding, the airline would need the cooperation of all of its hub airports.

Its bases at Atlantic City, Baltimore, Chicago–O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, and Orlando are slowly coming on board. Some, like Dallas, already have biometrics in place, while others are likely laying plans to embrace the tech.

Spirit Airlines
WiFi onboard will be needed to facilitate biometric payments in flight. Photo: Spirit Airlines

For the touchless experience to continue into the plane, however, Spirit needs something that it doesn’t yet have – WiFi onboard. Christie noted that this plan was still in the works, saying,

“Our objective still, while it has been delayed due to technology issues, will be eventually getting ourselves to having WiFi onboard the airplane. That’s going to make the experience even better.”

With WiFi onboard and cooperation with airports on the ground, Spirit passengers could be enjoying the benefits of biometrics sooner than might have been expected.