Japanese Airport Automates the Boarding Process with New Facial Recognition and No Contact

Face Express is a sign of the times, with machines guiding socially distanced passengers onto the plane in place of airport staff.

In recent years, facial recognition software has moved from the realm of science fiction into our everyday lives, finding its way onto iPhones and other mundane uses. But until now, widespread use of the technology has mainly been contained to low-stakes, private uses. Now, Japan’s two biggest airlines are taking the next step, with plans to use facial recognition as a key part of the new Face Express system, which will guide passengers through socially distanced boarding procedures at the Narita Airport’s international terminal, the gateway for many travelers entering and exiting Japan.

No, there’s no massive database with secret information and photos of you like in a dystopian movie. The system works by taking a photo of each passenger at the self-check-in kiosk when they arrive at the airport, and matching it with the photo in their passport. The passenger can then use their face for identification throughout the boarding process, as a so-called “face passport,” checking bags, going through security, and getting onto the plane without needing to show their passport and boarding pass each time. After the passenger is safely in the air, Face Express says the system deletes the photo.

Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have been using the facial recognition system at Narita Airport since July 19th, and Face Express is looking to expand. In the future, they’re hoping more airlines will move to adopt the system.

Face Express and similar “face passport” facial recognition systems are clearly seeing success due in part to COVID-19, as travelers have slowly begun to return to airports, but are still reticent to come into close contact with others. The automated machines allow passengers to stay socially distanced and avoid unnecessary contact with airport staff, making the process more comfortable for all in the midst of a pandemic. Since winter of 2020, Lufthansa and Swiss Airlines customers passing through Frankfurt or Munich Airport have also been able to use a similar system which even allows passengers to register photos in advance, and accurately identifies faces even for those wearing a mask. Everything from vending machines to conveyor belt sushi proves the love that Japan has for automated systems, so it should be interesting to see how facial recognition transforms Japan’s airports in the coming years.

Basic Info

Name: Japan Airlines

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