The Transportation Security Administration in the USA is testing the use of facial recognition technology at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, DC as part of a new pilot program. The “self-service” checkpoints will reduce the need for travelers to interact with TSA officers during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In light of COVID-19, advanced health and safety precautions have become a top priority and part of the new normal for TSA,” Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. “As a result, we are exploring rapid testing and deployment of this touchless, self-service technology.”

Self-service face recognition technology tested at Ronald Reagan International Airport
Washington DC's Ronald Reagan International Airport trials facial recognition technology © Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Instead of handing over travel documents to TSA staff, travelers will insert identification into a machine that scans the ID and the traveler’s face to match them, as well as comparing it to flight information. A TSA officer sitting behind a plastic divider will review the result for final approval.

“At the conclusion of the pilot, we expect to be able to determine how positioning the new technology will allow passengers to use it themselves thereby providing a safer checkpoint experience, while adding significant security benefits,” Pekoske said. A similar system was tested last September at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

McCarran International Airport
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas trialed a similar system last year © Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Facial recognition technology is already widely in use at European airports, and Eurostar, the cross-Channel service between London and Europe, recently announced the launch of face scanners instead of passport control, a first for train travel. Earlier this year, special automated booths with facial scanners were rolled out in 15 US airports for speedier security screenings for members of the Global Entry program.

Airports and airlines have looked to tech for solutions to making air travel as safe as possible during the pandemic, from full-body disinfection chambers at Hong Kong International Airport to enhanced on-board cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Some airlines have even promised to cover medical expenses and quarantine costs for passengers diagnosed with COVID-19 during their travels.

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