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Time To Face The Future: Biometric Facial Scanners Arrive At Tampa International Airport

A man stands in front of a biometric face scanner.
Tampa International Airport
Tampa International Airport is testing out biometric face scanners at three of its gates during the month of July.

By Carrie Pinkard

There could be a day in the future where people won’t need to shuffle through boarding passes and passports to get on a plane.

All they would need is their face.

Tampa International Airport may be heading in that direction with their biometric facial scanner pilot program.

John Tiliacos, executive vice president of operations and customer service at TIA, said the month-long pilot program is part of a larger plan to streamline the boarding process.

“The longer range plan for this is that the biometric system, once it is tied into the airline computerized reservation system, would eventually become a one-step process. So your photo is taken, it's matched to a library of photos, and then Customs has a record of you leaving the country.”

The library of photos comes from the U.S. Customs Traveler Verification Service database, and customs officials say photos are deleted within 12 hours of verification. 

The facial biometrics system is divided into “exit biometrics” and “entry biometrics.”

As the names suggest, exit biometrics is for people leaving the country, while entry biometrics is for people coming in.

Tampa International Airport has agreed to pay $1 million in installing exit biometric facial scanners, with hopes that U.S. Customs will install the companion entry system next year.

The biometric scanners should be at 10 outgoing international gates by fall of 2020.

Tiliacos said the goal is to expedite the processing time people have to spend when they arrive at the airport.

“From the arrival side, our mission is to make sure that internationally arriving passengers are able to get through customs much faster and more efficiently than they do today,” Tiliacos said.

The pilot program has been running since the beginning of the month, and Tiliacos said there have been no issues with it yet.

He said the error rate for the scanners is two-tenths of a percent.

If a passenger feels uneasy about using the biometric facial scanners, they don’t have to.

“If someone wants to opt out they can certainly do that,” Tiliacos said. “Their identification and boarding eligibility will be checked through an alternative means.”

A passenger boarding a Copa Airlines flight at Tampa International Airport using the new biometric face scanner.
Credit Tampa International Airport
A passenger boarding a Copa Airlines flight at Tampa International Airport using the new biometric face scanner. The airport plans to spend $1 million to place the scanners at 10 of it's international gates by fall of 2020.