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Biometric screenings expanding for faster boarding at TPA

Tampa International Airport says the devices can significantly reduce boarding time for international flights.

TAMPA, Fla. — Meant to make the boarding process for international travel more efficient, biometric screening is now in place at some Tampa International Airport gates. 

Biometric gates will soon be installed at all eleven international gates at the airport, according to Executive Vice President of Airport Operations John Tiliacos. It is being tested by airlines and is expected to be in full use at some point in August.

Following a years-long pilot program, the airport announced Monday that the technology was "now ready for use," but it will be up to airlines to officially launch it.

TPA says the biometric gates have been installed in an effort to make the boarding process safer and more convenient for travelers. The airport is also trying to get ahead of upcoming federal regulations.

“By 2024, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has mandated that all U.S. international flights use biometric scanners," TPA IT Analyst David Golden wrote in a statement on TPA's website. “The ones we’ve been implementing at TPA will replace, in many cases, the traditional boarding pass scanners.”  

So how does it all work? TPA says when a passenger approaches the gate, the scanner snaps a photo, compares it to the person's passport image that's already on file, double-checks that the person's name is on the flight manifest and then approves or rejects the person. The airport says that all happens within just five seconds.

"As soon as the automatic gates open for the passenger to pass through, they will immediately close before the next passenger is able to board," TPA wrote online. "The biometric scanner has the capability to prevent piggybacking and can also be modified for those needing to use a wheelchair."

On average, TPA says an airplane with 130 passengers takes about 30-40 minutes to board. The airport thinks the biometric devices can cut that time down to as few as 11 minutes.

“We are joining the ranks of other major airports using this new technology to speed up and simplify the airport experience," Golden added. "Multiple airlines are currently working with the Airport to implement this new process and our goal is to have multiple biometric scanners in use soon.”

Within the next 10-15 years, TPA says it plans to use biometrics for everything from baggage drop-off to shuttle boarding and TSA checkpoints.

"It's eventually going to evolve in how passengers check in at the ticket counter, their experience at the TSA security checkpoint, and we envision a day when passengers will no longer have to stop and check in with anyone. It's all automated," Tiliacos said.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, all traveler photos of U.S. citizens are deleted and no photos are ever shared with industry partners.

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