Can identity verification enable a faster, more secure flight check-in experience?

Airports. Crowded spaces, filled with people either in a hurry or idly waiting, some looking like they’ve been there for days. Since the dawn of commercial flying to the evolution of modern facilities, it’s clear we’ve come a long way.

There’s still room for improvement, however, especially when it comes to shortening the time and streamlining the process needed for a person to board a flight. When traveling within the United States, it’s recommended to arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure. This means passengers often spend nearly as much time checking in, getting their boarding passes and bag tags, and going through security, than they do in the air. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the current state of airport check-in and what can be done to make the overall travel experience for passengers as seamless and friction-free as possible — highlighting the vital role of identity verification.

Remote check-in 

Today, almost all airlines offer the option to check in online. Digital check-in allows passengers to bypass the in-person process in advance, using either the airline’s website or mobile app. Travelers no longer need to wait until they’re at the airport, and can instead do so before the day of the flight (typically within 24 hours) from the comfort of their homes and through the ease of their phones. When checking in online, passengers need to be prepared with flight details, the PNR (booking number or confirmation number), and their passport/ID number. 

After finishing the digital process, all one needs to do at the airport is present the ID that was used for online check-in and a mobile device with the e-ticket or boarding pass. By doing that, they’re bypassing a potentially long check-in line and only need to worry about security waiting time, unless they need to check a large piece of luggage. 

Self-service kiosks

Similar to online check-in, nearly all airports have an option to self-check through kiosks. They look like ATMs, but print out boarding passes instead of cash. Aside from providing boarding passes, travelers can choose their seats and pre-check luggage. Spawned by the pandemic, airlines started to invest in contactless kiosks to reduce exposure to germs. United Airlines introduced touchless kiosks that scan paper or mobile tickets and automatically print luggage tags or boarding passes. 

As they continue to proliferate, fully-automated kiosks will divert traffic from check-in representatives and reduce friction at baggage drop and check-in areas. 

Reducing waiting time, increasing security

Online check-in and self-service kiosks significantly shorten a traveler’s timeframe for boarding. The downside to these solutions, however, is the lack of security measures. While these innovations require entering an ID or passport number to confirm the traveler’s identity, there is no cross-check with an additional document or self-produced image (i.e., selfie), to fully satisfy the requirements for thorough identity verification. 

Meanwhile, travelers are turning to additional services that speed up check-in processes and shorten the waiting time for security screening. The two biggest providers of such services are TSA PreCheck and CLEAR. They’re very similar, but they have some differences. 

Let’s start with TSA PreCheck. By becoming a member, a traveler can access the quicker TSA PreCheck line at security. It’s available at all major and mid-sized airports, and more than 70 airline companies have adopted the service. Signing up for TSA PreCheck is both a digital and physical experience. The first step is to pre-register online and then make an appointment for an interview at the closest TSA enrollment center. It’s mandatory to bring proof of citizenship and a valid photo ID to the interview. (See the identity documents TSA accepts when signing up for their service.) According to TSA, most applicants hear back on their application within two weeks.

Fully-automated ID scanning will become a standard part of airline mobile apps

While this procedure isn’t too lengthy or complicated, both identity document scanning and remote customer verification can significantly simplify the user experience. These two solutions could potentially eliminate the need to visit the TSA center for an interview and hand over personal documents. That means travelers can do everything from the comfort of their homes and on multiple devices. 

Conversely, CLEAR also brings the benefit of skipping long waiting lines, but not at airport security — it addresses the line for ID check just before security. At more than thirty airports, CLEAR members can enter a special, shorter lane to get their boarding pass checked and their iris scanned. In addition to airports, users can enter the CLEAR lane for faster entrance at all major stadiums in the US. 

Registering for CLEAR is a bit quicker than TSA PreCheck. There’s options to sign up at airports supporting CLEAR or by visiting their website. Since there is a biometric element to the service, users must go to one of the CLEAR enrollment centers to register their fingerprints or iris. Members can start using CLEAR as soon as the registration is over. Their biometric data is later used for identity authentication. 

If these new innovations are any indication, we’ll see the impact of emerging technologies on the air travel check-in experience in the coming years, whether it’s verifying passengers through biometric data, cross-checking with global databases, scanning and authenticating identity documents, or beyond.

The tools for automation are here — only time will tell until they are implemented in airports worldwide.

December 6, 2022

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