By MINA KAJI, GIO BENITEZ and SAM SWEENEY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — As air travel hits record numbers since the pandemic began, U.S. airlines are testing and implementing new technologies aimed at reducing contact — both with surfaces and with people.
American Airlines is currently testing biometric boarding at Dallas/Fort-Worth International Airport for some international flights. Instead of scanning a boarding pass, the traveler can scan their face at a kiosk that verifies their identity with U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the gate.
The airline told ABC News the goal is to expand this technology to domestic flights within the next few months in addition to using it at other points along the journey such as baggage drop.
“We really want to have an easy customer experience when customers can come back for travel,” American Airlines Vice President of Customer Experience Julie Rath said in an interview with ABC News’ Gio Benitez. “Through the pandemic, many customers stopped traveling. They’re coming back to travel, though there’s more complexities, and we just want to make it easier for them.”
U.S. airlines hope new touchless technology will boost passenger confidence. They’ve already seen a significant spike in bookings as the vaccine rollout grows. American’s CEO Doug Parker revealed Monday that they are “getting to a point” where bookings are “coming up very close to what we’ve seen in the past.”
The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.3 million people on Friday and Sunday, the most travelers they’ve seen in a year.
“We’re really optimistic for the summer,” Rath said. “The last three weeks have been our best booking weeks since the pandemic started.”
Delta Air Lines’ newest addition is a touchless on-board payment system.
Passengers can use Delta’s “tap-to-pay technology” without swiping or handing a flight attendant a credit card.
“Not only will these new features provide peace of mind in the pandemic era by reducing touchpoints, they’re a key element of our vision for easing every step of the travel journey,” Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch said in a statement.
United fliers can now scan QR codes that connect them virtually with an agent, rather than speaking to one in person at the airport.
Even with these innovations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still is advising against travel — even for those who’ve been vaccinated.
“Every time that there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week during a briefing. “We know that many of our variants have emerged from international places, and we know that the travel corridor is a place where people are mixing a lot.”
Walensky explained that they are not recommending travel because the vast majority of the population isn’t vaccinated, so they need to prioritize keeping those people safe, especially if people who are vaccinated can still transmit the virus.
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