Spirit Airlines launches facial scans at Hartsfield-Jackson

Spirit Airlines is now using facial scans at automated bag drop machines at Hartsfield-Jackson.

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Spirit Airlines is now using facial scans at automated bag drop machines at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Spirit Airlines has started using facial scans at baggage check counters at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with a goal of using them to help process passengers and luggage more quickly.

It follows rollouts of facial recognition technology by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines at some gates, check-in counters and ID checkpoints around Hartsfield-Jackson.

The Spirit process for domestic travelers matches a facial scan to a physical ID, such as a driver’s license, instead of checking the image against a federal digital database of photos from passports. Ultra low-cost carrier Spirit caters to budget leisure travelers, many of whom may not have passports.

Spirit’s new system is limited to its baggage check counter, where the airline installed five Materna Intelligent Passenger Solutions automated bag check units. Passengers scan a driver’s license or passport and have their image captured by a camera, then drop their tagged bag on a conveyor belt.

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Spirit Airlines has rolled out automated bag drop machines at Hartsfield-Jackson with facial scan technology.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Spirit Airlines has rolled out automated bag drop machines at Hartsfield-Jackson with facial scan technology.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Spirit Airlines has rolled out automated bag drop machines at Hartsfield-Jackson with facial scan technology.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Spirit hopes to eventually allow passengers checking bags to verify their identities against their photo IDs solely via facial scan, instead of handing an ID to a customer service agent to be manually checked.

For now, however, a Spirit agent checks IDs visually before passengers proceed to the automated bag drop machine with biometric photo matching.

The dual photo ID checks are required until the rollout at the Atlanta airport gets approval from the Transportation Security Administration, Spirit says. Passengers can opt out of the biometric photo matching and instead see an agent.

But Spirit hopes most of its customers who check bags will eventually use the automated ID check. It will speed the process and cut costs by reducing the number of workers at check-in counters — particularly amid the labor shortage affecting many companies. The technology is also aimed at detecting fraudulent IDs to increase security.

“We kind of look at these self bag drop machines as co-workers,” said Mike Byrom, Spirit’s vice president of airport services.

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Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

The automated units also check for overweight luggage and levy fees, which Spirit says increases compliance with its weight restrictions and boosts revenues. Spirit charges fees for carry-on luggage and checked bags, which have a weight limit of 40 pounds. Overweight fees are $50 to $75 per bag.

The rollout of facial recognition has raised privacy concerns by opponents who say it could be used for surveillance and that there are flaws with the technology.

Spirit says it does not transmit any of the data to government agencies and does not require people to have a passport or join federal trusted traveler programs.

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