For travelers, that means facial scanning is continuing to replace...

For travelers, that means facial scanning is continuing to replace physical documents. Credit: Bloomberg/Ting Shen

Your face may now be all you need to fly United Airlines out of Chicago or Los Angeles. No driver’s license or passport required.

United is the latest airline to partner with the Transportation Security Administration’s “touchless” identity verification at airport checkpoints for PreCheck members. The program is part of a larger effort to improve the dreaded security screening process.

Fliers can opt in to United’s new Touchless PreCheck ID program when they check in on the airline’s app. At the airport, they access a dedicated security queue where their faces are scanned and, if verified with their existing passport or visa photo in the system, are waved on by a TSA agent. They then proceed through the checkpoint the same as they do now, placing bags on the X-ray belt and passing through a metal detector.

Travelers must be flying on United and members of both PreCheck and the airline’s loyalty program to use the facial recognition option.

“It’s a much faster and better experience,” said Timothy Kuryak, a Southern California-based television executive and writer who has used the new service when flying United out of Los Angeles International Airport.

Compared with Clear, the private and controversial expedited screening service that also uses fingerprints or eye scans - broadly known as biometrics - to verify travelers’ identities, Kuryak said he thinks the new touchless PreCheck option is faster and experiences fewer glitches.

For those confused by all the TSA screening options, touchless PreCheck is an addition to the standard TSA line and PreCheck queue - both of which require you to either provide an ID to an agent or insert it in a machine for verification - and Clear queues.

“It’s as easy as it sounds,” a spokesperson for United said of touchless verification. The airline launched the new program at Chicago O’Hare and LAX at the end of January and, following a pilot period, plans to roll it out to other hub airports in the future.

United’s other hubs include Denver, Houston Bush, Newark Liberty, San Francisco and Washington Dulles airports.

As part of the test, United travelers can use their face to verify their identity when they drop off checked bags. Travelers may still be asked to show an ID during the testing phase, the United spokesperson said.

Automating airports

New technology “will allow us to be more effective in screening, more efficient in screening, and allow for a better customer experience,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said last September. Automated identity verification is the latest step in that technological march.

For travelers, that means facial scanning is continuing to replace physical documents. They can use a scan to enter an airline lounge. And, at least for members of certain Trusted Traveler programs, to enter the United States.

This year, the TSA will debut its first self-service checkpoint at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. Travelers will have their faces scanned and identity verified automatically, place their bags on a X-ray belt, proceed through a scanner and, if prompted, answer any questions at a kiosk about their bags before heading on to their gate.

Expanding biometrics

The TSA first rolled out touchless PreCheck identity verification with Delta Air Lines, known as the Delta Digital ID, in Detroit in 2021. The partnership with Delta has since expanded to four more airports: Atlanta, Los Angeles, and John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia in New York.

American Airlines offers its own version of TSA’s touchless PreCheck verification. Travelers departing from Reagan Washington National Airport can scan the airline’s Mobile ID and then have their identity verified by facial recognition at security checkpoints.

The TSA is working with other airlines to expand touchless PreCheck to more airports.

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