Many airline passengers equate summer travel with snaking lines at airport security. But this year, TSA is adding new technology to speed along even the most congested checkpoints. One such piece of equipment, called a credential authentication technology (CAT) scanner, is programmed to automatically match traveler’s ID information to flight manifests. In short: Travelers at dozens of U.S. airports no longer need to show their boarding passes to TSA officers, eliminating one more item that fliers need to scramble for in order to get through security.
The scanners can digitally process a traveler’s ID and match their biographical information like name and birthdate against the Secure Flight database in real time. “There is no need for a boarding pass at this point since the Secure Flight database contains the names and flight details for people ticketed to travel in the next 24 hours,” Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokesperson, said in an email.
Instead, travelers will either hand over their ID to the TSA officer at the podium or insert it into the machine themselves, depending on the airport. Many travelers may have already noticed the new ID process, as the agency says it has so far deployed 1,621 CAT scanners to 176 airports. Among those, 90 scanners are “modified and equipped to read and verify digital identification,” says a TSA release.
Both large international airports and smaller regional facilities alike are utilizing the new scanner equipment, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Boston Logan International, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, both airports in Washington, D.C., and New York’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, plus dozens of others.
The machines can read driver’s licenses, passports and passport cards, Trusted Traveler IDs like Global Entry cards, permanent resident cards, and many more. TSA has a full list of accepted IDs on its website.
The expansion of the CAT machines comes as other private companies, like Apple, are also working on new innovations for airport security. The tech juggernaut recently launched a partnership with TSA in which passengers at select airports can upload their state-issued IDs to the Apple Wallet app and swipe through the checkpoint using their iPhone or Apple Watch. So far, the program is available for TSA PreCheck passengers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
American Airlines also began a TSA partnership this month that allows its passengers with a frequent flier account and TSA PreCheck to use a mobile device to verify their identity at the airport. To use the program, fliers download the Airside Digital Identity App to an iOS or Android device, take a photo of their face, scan their driver’s license or passport, and enter their AAdvantage frequent flier number. The app generates a QR code that users present to the TSA officer, and then they look into a camera at the podium; TSA’s technology matches the airport photo against the app’s mobile ID information.
American Airlines says the whole process takes approximately five seconds. Images captured by the TSA are encrypted and deleted after verification. The mobile ID program is available at all PreCheck lines at the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, with plans on expanding to Miami International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Washington Reagan National Airport, and potentially others later this year.
“By simplifying the identity verification process and other points at the airport, we’re helping our customers exchange stress for convenience and saved time, and propelling the travel industry further along the path to a truly seamless customer experience,” Julie Rath, American’s VP of customer experience, loyalty and marketing, said in a statement.
This summer, it seems even small changes could make a big difference given the crush of travelers showing up to airports: TSA recently saw its busiest day since the pandemic began over the Juneteenth holiday weekend, with an estimated 2.44 million people passing through security checkpoints at U.S. airports on Friday, June 17.
This article first appeared in Condé Nast Traveler.