Lufthansa may have cracked the airplane boarding problem

Lufthansa believes it may have cracked the airplane boarding problem, with news the airline will roll out its time-saving biometric system across multiple US airports. According to Lufthansa, its facial recognizing gates helped the airline board an A380 plane in about 20 minutes, and potentially in a more secure way, too.

The system replaces the usual boarding process with a set of self-boarding gates. Each has a camera linked into the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) database. Rather than showing a boarding pass at the gate, or indeed even a passport prior to international flights, the gate sends a snapshot of the passenger to the CBP.

That's matched and verified in a process Lufthansa claims takes only "a few seconds" and the system recognizes the passenger as being "boarded" on the flight. Since the CBP already has a biometric database in place, the airline doesn't have to build one itself. That helps avoid privacy issues and data protection.

Lufthansa installed the system in Los Angeles, at LAX, for its initial trial. There, the airline managed to get roughly 350 passengers onto a plane in just twenty minutes. It says it "received very positive feedback from guests," too.

The next step is to expand the trial to a number of other airport. Lufthansa hasn't said which they will be in the US yet, though soon it won't just be that one airline deploying the system. Since the company it partnered with, Amadeus, works with other providers, there's the potential for further airlines that use the Amadeus Altea system to deploy biometrics boarding themselves.

"We anticipate that in near time, biometric boarding, as well as other aspects of the air travel experience, will be widely utilized across the U.S. and beyond," Lufthansa's Bjoern Becker said of the trial.

Efficient boarding has been one of the long-standing bugbears of the airline world. Numerous different methods are in operation, usually consisting of some mixture of zones and different lines to queue in. Nonetheless, the bottleneck remains the digital check-in portion itself, reliant as it currently is on either paper or virtual versions of printed boarding passes. They have security implications of their own, meanwhile, with travelers often unaware of just how much even an expired boarding pass can tell someone with nefarious intent.