Star Alliance Sees Huge Potential In Biometric Boarding

Star Alliance is keen to introduce a seamless check-in and ground experience for its passengers based on biometric identification. It will reduce the need for paperwork and boarding passes, and it’s closer to fruition than you might think. Star Alliance plans to start rolling out what it calls “biometric solutions” in early 2020.

Star Alliance sees huge potential in biometric boarding. Photo: tjdarmstadt via Wikimedia Commons.

Christian Kramer has a report in The Points Guy which references Jeffrey Goh, CEO of Star Alliance, speaking at an aviation exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany, earlier this week. Star Alliance’s plan is for its passengers to enroll and register via their individual airline’s frequent flyer scheme. At this point, passengers will upload an ID photo.

Then, using this photo, the plan is to allow passengers to check-in, drop off luggage, clear security, enter the lounge and board the aircraft – all based on facial recognition. It sounds kind of cool, assuming it works seamlessly. But it opens up a minefield of potential privacy issues.

Star Alliance says any data collected will be GDPR compliant. That means it will comply with a legal framework regarding the collection and processing of personal information for individuals resident in the EU. Jeffrey Goh says the program will allow passengers to select where their biometric data can and cannot be used.

Facial Recognition
A number of airlines and airports are phasing in facial recognition. Photo: John Paul Van Wert/Delta Airlines via Flickr

The biometric package is being developed in conjunction with NEC. Star Alliance has said;

“With a few easy steps on their mobile device, customers will have the option to enrol in the new platform using industry-leading security technology. They only need to enrol once and can then use their biometrics data multiple times at biometrics touchpoints of any participating airport whenever they travel with a Star Alliance member airline.

Personal data, such as photo and other identification details, are encrypted and safely stored within the platform. From the outset, the system has been designed in compliance with applicable data protection laws making use of the latest facial recognition technology. Personal data will only be processed with the consent of the passenger. Passengers may be required to show their passport during security and immigration procedures.”

The inevitable creep of biometrics

The creep and use of biometrics in identification and security processes is inevitable. Once they iron out the bugs, it will be efficient and effective. Railing against it can smack of Luddism and it would be naive to think that given the ubiquity of CCTV in cities and airports that it isn’t already happening.

Star Alliance Sees Huge Potential In Biometric Boarding
Biometric boarding will use facial recognition technology. Photo: Emirates

And at least Star Alliance is putting it out there rather than relying on gradual creep and encroachment.

There are valid privacy concerns

But it does raise significant privacy concerns. And the issue is the legal encroachments just as much as the illegal encroachments. Legislation is constantly evolving in many jurisdictions giving governments and their various agencies easy access to private databases. And in some of the home countries of various Star Alliance airlines, they don’t even bother much with legislation – they just demand information.

However, the rollout of biometrics does seem inevitable. Photos are already digitized for driver’s licenses and passports in many countries. Star Alliance’s plans are simply an extension of that process. In ten years’ time, we probably won’t think twice about it when we move smoothly through an airport unhindered and unburdened by printouts of e-tickets and itineraries.

Unless a computer somewhere says no.