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Spirit Airlines has launched the nation’s first check-in experience powered by biometric photo-matching.

Spirit’s re-imagined check-in experience, already installed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), is designed to limit face-to-face interaction, streamline flight check-ins and get travelers from the curb to the planes in the sky quicker than ever.

The experience starts with guests tagging their own checked bags and then sending them to the plane using an automated self-bag drop unit equipped with biometric photo-matching. Here’s how biometric photo-matching works: An agent will manually verify guests’ identification before they approach the self-bag drop units. (Spirit expects to eliminate this step once the TSA completes its evaluation and approval process.) Guests are advised of the biometric option prior to scanning their boarding pass at the self-bag drop unit. They may either opt in and continue unassisted or opt out. Once the guest opts in, the unit instructs them to scan their ID on the built-in hardware. The unit compares its scan of the photo on the ID with a facial scan captured by its onboard sensors, along with comparing identification information with the guest’s reservation details. None of the data is transmitted to any government agency, nor does it leave Spirit’s possession at any time. A successful match initiates the rest of the automated bag check-in process. Guests are instructed to place their bags on the conveyor belt attached to the unit, which then scans the bags, weighs them, accepts payment for any additional optional services, and sends them straight into their airport’s checked baggage system without any further action from the guest.

Spirit Airlines“We started looking at ways to improve the check-in experience in 2019 as part of our pledge to invest in the guest,” said Spirit president and CEO Ted Christie in a press release statement. “We knew early on that automation and biometric photo-matching would make the check-in process smoother. Now in 2020, we’re realizing those same elements are just as valuable when it comes to helping people feel comfortable flying. Limiting touchpoints and unnecessary face-to-face interactions will change the way airports operate.”

Guests check around 1,000 bags daily right now at ORD and LGA, each of which represents a face-to-face interaction that can be eliminated. Spirit anticipates handling more than double that volume when demand for air travel returns to normal, 90 percent of which the airline expects to process via self-bag drop. Testing data shows the new procedure drops average processing time to just 70 seconds per guest, reducing time spent at bag check by 30 percent.

The self-bag drop system uses software capable of analyzing key physical features on more than 50,000 forms of ID from nearly 200 countries that a guest could potentially use when traveling in the United States. Combined with the units’ scanning hardware, the software confirms the authenticity of an ID and rejects fraudulent documents.

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