Spirit Airlines plans to offer contact-free bag dropoff using biometric face scan at O'Hare

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Spirit Airlines airplane taxis at DFW International Airport on August 23, 2017, in Dallas. - David Woo/Dallas Morning News/TNS

Spirit Airlines has a new automated bag dropoff system at O’Hare International Airport that the airline says will eventually let travelers deposit checked bags without interacting with an employee.

The system, which needs approval from the Transportation Security Administration, will allow passengers to scan their ID at a kiosk attached to a conveyor belt. The system will compare the ID to a facial scan and, if there’s a match, instruct the traveler to put their bags on the belt to be loaded on the plane.

The airline began testing automated checked bag drop-off units in New York earlier this year, but the O’Hare system is the first to use biometrics to check the passenger’s identity.

For now, passengers still need to have their ID verified by a check-in agent so TSA can gather data on the system’s accuracy, but the goal is to eventually eliminate the need for face-to-face interaction at check-in, Spirit spokesman Field Sutton said Thursday.

Passengers not checking a bag remain free check in online to avoid showing their ID until reaching security.

Spirit began developing the system to speed check-in and let employees focus on passengers who needed assistance beyond a routine check-in. During the coronavirus pandemic, the airline also sees it as a way to avoid unnecessary face-to-face interaction, Spirit President and CEO Ted Christie said in a news release Thursday.

“We knew early on that automation and biometric photo-matching would make the check-in process smoother,” he said. “Now in 2020, we’re realizing those same elements are just as valuable when it comes to helping people feel comfortable flying.”

Spirit said it does not transmit any passenger data gathered, including names or photos, to any government agency.


©2020 Chicago Tribune