The Future of Boarding: Biometric Pilot Lands at Newark Liberty International Airport

  • By: Rachel Gow, Media Relations Staff at The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

If you’ve ever been the traveler searching frantically for a boarding pass and passport that have gone missing just before boarding, Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) has some welcome news.

The Port Authority is piloting a biometric self-boarding e-gate at EWR to enhance the customer experience. Conceived and managed by the Port Authority, the pilot program is being tested until August 31 at Gate 62 of Terminal B before it will assessed for potentially wider implementation. The agency is working with partners EASIER and Idemia, who manufacture the hardware and software, respectively, and Lufthansa, which has integrated the e-gate into its departure control system.

The normal boarding process requires passengers to wait in line while an attendant – often having to handle a scrum of many passengers – scans boarding passes and passports. But biometric boarding only requires something passengers can’t lose: their face.

Raymond Viggiano, International Facility Supervisor at EWR, said:

The passenger walks right up to the e-gate, which takes a biometric scan and confirms a passenger is okay to board. There’s very little interaction needed there.

The entire process takes seconds; it's that quick. It’s just a really nice flow and passenger experience.

To replace the routine emplaning process, the biometric system works in tandem with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to cross-reference images. The biometric picture taken before boarding must match the images in CBP’s existing database, which all passport holders have already entered. Once CBP sends confirmation, the airline deletes all scans within 12 hours, Viggiano said.

Beyond saving travelers and attendants time, the pilot system helps limit physical contact between attendants, passengers and shared surfaces, aiding in the success of ongoing Covid-19 precautions. Similarly, those agents that would normally be located behind plexiglass scanning documents can now be redeployed to more useful departments, according to Viggiano.

newark airport biometric boarding
The pilot is being carried out in collaboration with EASIER and Idemia and Lufthansa.

Viggiano said that a significant part of the pilot program also involves taking note of customer feedback. All passengers maintain the right to opt out of the biometric system and have their passport and boarding pass checked manually.

So far, the case for biometrics is strong. Trials at a biometric Delta terminal at Atlanta International Airport found that the system saves up to nine minutes per flight.

Until the Newark Liberty pilot concludes at the end of this month, the Port Authority will continue to collect data that compares the speed of boarding with biometrics – measured by passengers per minute – to gates with the traditional emplaning procedure. The Port Authority and its airport partners hope to take a phased approach in implementing biometric scanners first, at the international gates and then throughout all of Terminal B. Beyond that, the possibilities are limitless.

Viggiano, said:

We’ve looked at the entire passenger trajectory, from bag drop, to checkpoint, to seat, and we really worked to improve the airport experience. Seeing our early successes here, I really think biometrics is the way of the future.

This article was originally published by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.


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