Experts to begin facial-recognition pilot program for touchless airport experience

As COVID-19 restrictions are loosened, Americans are getting back to traveling and airports are trying new ways to keep passengers safe.

One of those ways is testing new contactless and biometric technology to maximize social distancing. We talk with Chris McLaughlin, the Chief Operating Officer at Denver International Airport, where the testing will be implemented soon.

"We're focused right now on giving people, restoring their confidence in flying. What we know is that in this COVID world we're living in, two things are really important to people: distance and the ability to do things without touching things. And so we're working on pilots with Daon to produce programs, if you will, assuming the pilots are successful, that allow people to process through our airport in ways that allow people to maintain space, to maintain distance, to allow them to move through aspects of the journey that would typically require contact in a way that now becomes free of contact," he says. 

Here's how this pilot process works, which has been in the works for about two months now. McLaughlin says the first test should be in place in about a month. 

"What we're looking at, from the first pilot perspective, is essentially a reservation system that would allow an individual from the comfort of their own home to enroll in the system, really by downloading an app and then taking about 4-5 minutes to upload their biographic and biometric data, and then with that system in place they can book a reservation to allow themselves to show up at the airport when they want to, based on times that are available, and to process through our checkpoint onto our train in a way that keeps them distant from other customers and longterm in a way that allows a touch-free experience through the TSA process."

And by biometric data - he means your face. 

"So most Americans today unlock their phone using their face, they access their bank account using their face - we're really talking about doing the same thing, using your face - that's part of who you are, readily visible and available - to unlock portals for you, e-gates, whatever it may be to get you from point A to point Z through the airport experience."

He says the program takes your food and drink needs into account, too, once you reach the terminal. 

You can pre-order your food or drink, or order in real-time. You'll be able to pay for the product on your phone, and then the business will be putting together your order while you're going through security and will be available for pick-up once you're through. 

So when might you be seeing this at your hometown airport? McLaughlin says that really depends on the country's overall response to this idea. 

"I know [from] 20 years in this business, it takes a network to be successful and it really takes a community - airports, airlines, government entities working together."

But in the meantime, he says they plan to have pilot programs up and running by late summer, with data that proves the concept by the fall.

"Really, this is something that we think can be transferred from across the country, probably across the globe, if we do it right. And we have every intention of doing it right."