Alaska Airlines experiments with fingerprinting instead of checking ID to board flights

Fingerprint scanner (Photo: KOMO-TV)

SEATAC, Wash. (KOMO) -- A fingerprint may someday be enough to board an airplane if Alaska Airlines' new biometric scanners can get past security concerns.

The company has installed the device at its private lounge at Sea-Tac Airport to gauge the response by frequent flyers.

"Easy access, easy identification, and it's a way to get through," said Sandy Stellman, the carrier's managing director for customer research and development.

Scanning digits could save time not just at passenger lounges but also bag drops and other airport checkpoints. However, the devices would have to be foolproof to be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration, which right now requires passengers to carrry drivers licenses or other forms of identification.

There are also privacy concerns to consider, but Stellman said hackers couldn't steal any actual fingerprints.

"The fingerprint isn't actually stored, but a deconstructed alpha numeric character is stored, and that is stored securely," Stellman said.

KOMO-TV travel expert Steve Danishek said Alaska Airlines is way ahead of the competition on this move. He believes it will speed up times for travelers, and ultimately could save airlines money through automation.

"Using your thumb, using your device with the boarding pass grid right on it to get on, those all work," Danishek said.

So far, Alaska has signed up 4,000 customers for its biometric screen project. The company hopes to expand its role, and is working with the TSA and other carriers on future applications of fingerprint technology.

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