Air France begins trial of biometric boarding cards

Published 19 March 2009

Air France begins trials with biometric cards as a replacement for boarding passes; the RFID-equipped cards store the passenger’s fingerprints and may be re-used up to 500 times

Air France has started a trial of RFID-equipped smart cards which store passenger fingerprints to allow automated boarding. The card contains an encrypted version of forefinger and thumb prints. It can be used at a dedicated gate, which checks the card, compares it to the passenger’s finger or thumb print and, assuming the dabs match, opens the gate.

The back of the card has flight information printed on it and can be re-used up to 500 times. This includes a barcode with all the same information as a traditional paper boarding pass. Passengers can thus check in online, get to the airport, and insert their cards into a machine which will then be print their flight information and seat number onto the card.

John Oates writes that the airline claims registering for a card takes only a few minutes, and that once information is transmitted to the card no files are kept elsewhere. The trial runs until the end of the year, but only for members of AF’s frequent flyer program and only for flights between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schipol.

Air France hopes to extend use of the card to other companies like Hertz so passengers could use the card to pick up a car key at their destination.

The airline has recently extended use of mobile phone boarding passes to all European destinations.