Global Economics

Swedish Airline Offers Fingerprint Check-In


For SAS domestic flights, passengers scan their index finger to check baggage and to board. Some security experts are skeptical

No ID? No problem. In Sweden, all the identification you need to board an airplane is now at your fingertips—literally.

Scandinavian Airlines Sweden (SAS) now allows travelers with luggage to board domestic flights by providing a scan of their index fingerprint.

The goal, SAS spokesman Mikael Limdberg told SPIEGEL ONLINE, is to move passengers through airports more quickly. "The main point is to make the traveler's experience smoother," said Limdberg. "We are already flying as fast as we can in the air, so our hope is to smooth the traveler's experience on the ground."

The system is designed to address a European Union aviation security regulation requiring passengers who check baggage for a flight to be matched with their bags again when they board the plane. Passengers who opt to use the new biometric check-in system will scan their index finger as they drop off their baggage, and again at the gate. The two fingerprints are compared to confirm a passenger's identity, and no other ID is required.

The airline began testing the system in 2006 at a handful of small Swedish airports. It was expanded last week to cover virtually every SAS flight in Sweden, including traffic at the nation's largest airports, Gothenburg-Landvetter and Stockholm-Arlanda. Only passengers who check luggage—about half of the airline's 3.3 million domestic passengers annually—will have the option of using the system.

If Swedish passengers embrace the fingerprint check-in option, SAS will seek to expand the system to other European destinations. In Europe, though, some data security experts have already raised concerns.

Peter Schaar, the German Interior Ministry's commissioner for data security, says he is watching "with skepticism." Fingerprints, he told SPIEGEL, are "very easy to fake."

Limdberg counters that, while the airline's primary objective was efficiency, he also believes the system is actually more secure. "It makes a safe system even safer," he said. "'When you check in with an ID card, the photograph could be from a few years ago and a person's appearance could have changed significantly. But someone's fingerprints are always the same."

According to Limdberg, an SAS survey of the airline's frequent flyers found that 98 percent were supportive of the fingerprint system. The 2 percent who were skeptical or disapproved of the system cited concerns that their fingerprints could be stored or re-used.

"They didn't feel comfortable leaving their fingerprints out of fear that they might be re-used for some other purpose, but that's not the case," said Limdberg. "All the information is erased after a plane has landed."

The new system is part of a trend toward using biometric systems to identify travelers. Biometric systems that scan a passenger's iris have already been piloted at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and at Frankfurt airport.

Provided by Spiegel Online—Read the latest from Europe's largest newsmagazine

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