Among the segments affected by the pandemic, air travel remains near the top of the list when it comes to industries that have been hard hit.
And hopes for recovery have been dimmed as of late by the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, which has further dimmed prospects for consumers regaining their enthusiasm or flying the friendly skies. In the last week, in the midst of rising EU cases, airline giant IAG — owner of British Airways, Iberia and Vueling — has officially scaled back its fourth quarter flight schedules by 35 percent.
“Recent overall bookings have not developed as previously expected due to additional measures implemented by many European governments in response to a second wave of COVID-19 infections, including an increase in local lockdowns and extension of quarantine requirements to travelers from an increasing number of countries,” Chief Financial Officer Stephen Gunning said.
And cutting back is one of many measures airlines are using to attract customers and stay alive until a vaccine emerges in wide usage to bring the pandemic period to an end. Alaska Airlines sold entire three-seat rows for the price of a single seat during a 48-hour sale in August and September. American Airlines is making backend adjustments to the flying experience designed around offering a smoother, touchless and contact-free way for its customers to verify their identity digitally as they board.
Digital IDs and biometrics have been gaining momentum in airports nationwide, especially since the pandemic expanded the use of biometric scans as an authentication method that is not only more convenient, but actually safer by being more contact free.
What American Airlines Is Adding
Last month, American Airlines announced that it will be piloting a new touchless mobile identity system at Dallas/Fort Worth International and Reagan National airports that will allow passengers to verify their identities with their faces at the check-in desk. To use the system, the consumer will create a mobile ID on their mobile device (Apple or Android will work) via the Airside digital identity app to upload their passport or driver’s license, a photo of themselves and consent for their mobile ID to be shared and used on the day of travel. Using the digital identity system, consumers can print their own bag tags and use a scanner and match tablet within the airport to move touchless through the system.
“The tablet will take your picture, and your biometric information will match against the mobile ID shared from your device,” American Airlines explained this week. “Your mobile ID will be deleted from the cloud after your consent period expires.”
The system being rolled out will be usable at bag drop-off and check-in, but the program is intended to allow consumers to scan their face at every airport stop point to make it easier to move more smoothly through the airport.
The idea is far from new to the airline segment, as CLEAR’s increasing uptake for its biometric digital identity demonstrates. The identity verification firm, which has been around since the early 2000s and was formed in the aftermath of 9/11, offers a subscription service that gives passengers the option to move more quickly through security lines at over 60 airports and sports stadiums around the United States. The cost of annual membership is $179. CLEAR customers access the services by scanning their fingerprint or iris at access kiosks.
And while one might assume a company specializing in airports and stadium identity verification would be feeling the chill given events and travel have been greatly diminished by the pandemic, CLEAR has managed to pivot its services by expanding its purview, and after three months of a slowdown starting last spring, the firm is back to operating near pre-pandemic norms.
Expanding the Biometric Authentication Base
CLEAR’s greater ambitions lie beyond events and travel. The firm aspires to be a holistic identity verification platform that can leverage vast swaths of biometric and consumer data into the rest of their daily lives.
“We are a platform company… think about it like Amazon,” CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker explained on stage at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event last year. “Once you register, you’re tapping one-click all the time. Enroll once at the airport. Now you can use it at Hertz, now you can use it at the sports stadium, now you can use it at the Seahawks to buy a beer. That is the power of a platform. Now you think about adding hotels, now you think about rideshare… You are your credit card when you enroll.”
Starting this spring CLEAR also made its first steps into healthcare with the launch of a product called Health Pass in May. It takes CLEAR’s main identity verification service and attaches a person’s health information to their profile such that it could be used as a COVID-19 prevention tool. The information would come care of a quiz on coronavirus symptoms as they relate to their daily lives. The test would incorporate a temperature check, and users would be able to identify via a selfie or a QR code.
From there, the app is designed to be passed to CLEAR’s merchant partners to give them the data to know if they should accept or redirect the customer.
“CLEAR’s trusted biometric identity platform was born out of 9/11 to help millions of travelers feel safe when flying,” Maria Comella, the head of public affairs at CLEAR, told Axios. “Now, CLEAR’s touchless technology is able to connect identity to health insights to help people feel confident walking back into the office.”
Or into a retailer, doctors office or stadium. In an era when consumers are looking for many ways to move more cleanly and without contact, biometric-based authentication at distance seem increasingly poised to go from a neat add-on to a critical capability faster than one might have ever assumed a year ago.