LONDON – Spirit Airlines (NK) has launched the US first biometric photo-matching check-in experience, debuting new protocols developed for its domestic air travel.

Spirit Airlines has today unveiled its redesigned ticket lobby. The new design represents a paradigm for the US aviation industry and is aimed at reducing face-to-face contact. The new lobby also aims to streamline the check-in process and to shorten a passenger’s time at the airport.

Spirit Airlines Airbus A321-231 at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Photo: Tomás Del Coro.

Where Is It Already in Use?

The new check-in experience can already be found at New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Chicago O’Hare (ORD), and will be arriving elsewhere in the near future. The airline began developing the biometric photo-matching solution for domestic air travel in 2019.

Spirit had to start from scratch by creating and defining a new set of protocols in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Biometric check-in assistance was only previously available for international passengers. This move by NK makes the airline the first to offer biometric photo-matching for domestic air travel. The carrier is also the first to combine the technology with automated self-bag drop capabilities to once again reduce the amount of face-to-face contact.

TSA’s role is to evaluate and approve the airline’s use of the technology and upon completion of that evaluation and approval, the airline expects the solution to eliminate the need to stop and hand identification to a TSA agent.

How Does It Work?

In a statement released by the airline, it has revealed exactly how this new process works in practice.

Passengers will tag their own check bags and send them to the aircraft using the automated self-bag drop units. Initially, a TSA agent has to manually verify the passenger’s identity before they can approach the bag drop. The airline expects the manual interaction will be removed once the TSA completes its evaluation.

Passengers will then be advised of the biometric option prior to scanning their boarding pass at the bag drop. They may either opt-in and continue unassisted or opt-out. If passengers opt-in, the bag drop unit instructs them to scan their IDs on the built-in hardware.

The unit compares the scan of the ID with a facial scan captured by its own sensors. The unit also compares the ID information with the reservation details. A successful match will then initiate the rest of the automated check-in process, where guests are instructed to place bags on the conveyor belt. The system scans the bags, weighs them, and accepts payment for any additional service.

The bags are then sent to the aircraft without any further interaction from the passenger.

Spirit Airlines A320neo. Photo: SURESH ATTAPATU

Ways to Improve

Spirit President and CEO, Ted Christie, said, “We started looking at ways to improve the check-in experience in 2019 as part of our pledge to invest in the Guest”. It was also added that despite making the check-in process smoother, the introduction of biometric technology is “just as valuable when it comes to helping people feel comfortable flying”.

A reduction of “touchpoints” and removing “unnecessary face-to-face contact” will change the way that an airport operates in the future, added the CEO.

The airline began testing the self-bag drop at LGA in January this year. The technology has been developed by hardware partner Materna Intelligent Passenger Solutions (IPS) North America. Materna’s technology is already in use in major airports outside the U.S. however Spirit is the first airline to invest in bringing the technology to the U.S.

Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) Commissioner, Jamie L. Rhee, said, “The CDA has no greater priority than the safety, security, and well-being of every traveler who passes through our airports, and we appreciate Spirit Airlines choosing to debut its self-bag drop initiative at O’Hare.”

Rhee added that “In the COVID-19 era, going the extra mile to reassure travelers about their health and safety is critical and we are encouraged that so many of our airport partners are embracing new technologies and procedures to this end. Ted Christie and the team at Spirit Airlines have to be tremendous partners in this effort, and I’m grateful.”

The self-bag drop system uses software capable of analyzing key physical featureson more than 50,000 forms of ID from nearly 200 countries. Combined with the units’ scanning hardware, the software confirms the authenticity of an ID and rejects fraudulent documents.

Spirit Airlines Airbus A319-133 at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Photo: Tomás Del Coro.