More than a year ago, Delta announced it was partnering with CLEAR, the company that allows you to cut to the front of the security line in exchange for providing biometric data (and paying for the service). Delta went so far to provide its Diamond elites with free membership. At the time, I called it weird, but now it’s starting to make more sense. Delta is now working toward a biometric boarding pass powered by CLEAR, but I’m not sure this is the right way to go.
Delta is testing this new idea at Washington’s National airport. In the first phase, it’s not all that great. If you’re a CLEAR member and you also have a SkyClub membership, then you can gain access to the SkyClub simply by scanning your thumbprint. You no longer will need to show your ID or boarding pass or anything like that. Presumably this phase is meant just to ensure that the technology can work well for controlling access to something before the next phase begins.
In phase two, travelers will be able to check a bag without any identification beyond the fingerprint. They would also be able to board their flights the same way. No more needing to print out a boarding pass or fumble around on your phone to pull one up… just bring your finger and you’ll be able to make your way through the entire airport experience.
Presumably, once the kinks are worked out and this proves to be effective, Delta will roll this out everywhere… eventually. But it’ll still be somewhat awkward in that it will create yet another layer in the already complex boarding process. You’ll still have to be a CLEAR member to use this, so it once again creates the haves and have-nots. Might there be a better way?
Delta isn’t the only one playing around with this idea. JetBlue is doing a test of its own with an entirely different system. What JetBlue is trying allows boarding using facial recognition on its Boston to Aruba flight.
For this, JetBlue has partnered with airline technology provider SITA. When you step up to board, you’ll have your photo taken. Then SITA will send the photo to Customs and Border Protection to see if it matches your passport photo. If so, you’re good to board.
There are two obvious problems with this system. First, you have to have a passport. This is certainly a reasonable request for an international flight like the Boston to Aruba run, but for domestic flying, there will be plenty of people who don’t have one. Second, it’s easy to game the system since we all know that Face/Off was a documentary. Do we really want John Travolta to be able to board a flight under Nicholas Cage’s name? I think not.
But seriously, these are all big steps forward toward what will inevitably be the make our way through the airport in the future. The idea that we should need paper or even an electronic boarding pass will soon seem archaic, if it doesn’t already. Now the priority is simply a matter of finding which method is the best method.
It would be bad news if every airline decided to do something different and proprietary as appears to be the case with the Delta test. Many airports are moving toward common use ticket counters and gates, and if every airline requires a different kind of technology it will be an enormous and costly pain.
Delta sees CLEAR as an easy way to do this since the biometric data is already collected and the hardware to identify people is in use. Once it could convince the feds that it was reliable enough for aircraft boarding, then it was off to the races. I completely understand the Delta strategy. But it is reasonable to expect every airline to sign on to the CLEAR platform and then have people pay to play? It seems like a stretch.
Maybe CLEAR will be the answer to everyone’s problems, but I’m holding out hope that whatever the solution may be, it will be standardized so all carriers can use it. The ultimate goal should be to eliminate paper and electronic boarding passes for everyone. The race to prove which technology is best has now begun.