Spirit Airlines Overhauls Airports with Cutting-Edge Automation Aimed at Limiting Face-to-Face Interaction and Expediting Check-in
The check-in experience of the future just landed at LaGuardia Airport—right on time and ready to make travel easier. Spirit Airlines unveiled its redesigned ticket lobby which represents a new paradigm for the U.S. airline industry. The lobby is packed with industry-leading technology designed to limit face-to-face interaction, streamline flight check-ins and get Guests from the curb to the brightest planes in the sky quicker than ever.
Spirit’s re-imagined check-in experience is already installed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), and arriving in other cities soon. It starts with Guests tagging their own checked bags and then sending them to the plane using an automated self-bag drop unit equipped with biometric photo-matching. Guests can take advantage of the time savings and reduction in face-to-face interactions whether they’re travelling domestically or internationally.
Spirit began developing the nation’s first biometric photo-matching solution for domestic air travel in 2019. The airline had to start from scratch by defining an entirely new set of protocols in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Biometric check-in assistance was previously available only to international passengers. Spirit is the first to make it available for domestic Guests, and the first to pursue combining it with automated self-bag drop capabilities to reduce face-to-face interaction. The TSA’s role is to evaluate and approve Spirit’s use of the technology. Upon completion of that evaluation and approval, Spirit expects its biometric photo-matching solution to eliminate the need to stop and hand government-issued identification to an agent.
Here’s how biometric photo-matching works:
- An Agent will manually verify Guests’ identification before they approach the self-bag drop units. (Spirit expects to eliminate this step once the TSA completes its evaluation and approval process.)
- Guests are advised of the biometric option prior to scanning their boarding pass at the self-bag drop unit. They may either opt in and continue unassisted or opt out.
- Once the Guest opts in, the unit instructs them to scan their ID on the built-in hardware.
- The unit compares its scan of the photo on the ID with a facial scan captured by its on-board sensors, along with comparing identification information with the Guest’s reservation details. None of the data is transmitted to any government agency, nor does it leave Spirit’s possession at any time.
- A successful match initiates the rest of the automated bag check-in process. Guests are instructed to place their bags on the conveyor belt attached to the unit, which then scans the bags, weighs them, accepts payment for any additional optional services, and sends them straight into their airport’s checked baggage system without any further action from the Guest.
“We started looking at ways to improve the check-in experience in 2019 as part of our pledge to invest in the Guest,” Spirit President and CEO Ted Christie said. “We knew early on that automation and biometric photo-matching would make the check-in process smoother. Now in 2020, we’re realizing those same elements are just as valuable when it comes to helping people feel comfortable flying. Limiting touchpoints and unnecessary face-to-face interactions will change the way airports operate.”
Spirit began testing self-bag drop at LGA in January 2020 using technology developed by its hardware partner, Materna Intelligent Passenger Solutions (IPS) North America. Major airports outside the U.S. already use Materna’s equipment to improve their check-in processes, but Spirit is the first airline to invest in bringing the experience to the U.S. The airline worked with the TSA to develop an entirely new framework for using biometric photo-matching during check-in and ensuring its accuracy. Spirit began testing the technology under TSA’s supervision in May.
Guests check around 1,000 bags daily right now at ORD and LGA, each of which represents a face-to-face interaction that can be eliminated. Spirit anticipates handling more than double that volume when demand for air travel returns to normal, 90 percent of which the airline expects to process via self-bag drop. Testing data shows the new procedure drops average processing time to just 70 seconds per Guest, reducing time spent at bag check by 30 percent.
“The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) has no greater priority than the safety, security, and well-being of every traveler who passes through our airports, and we appreciate Spirit Airlines choosing to debut its self-bag drop initiative at O’Hare,” CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said. “In the COVID-19 era, going the extra mile to reassure travelers about their health and safety is critical — and we are encouraged that so many of our airport partners are embracing new technologies and procedures to this end. Ted Christie and the team at Spirit Airlines have been tremendous partners in this effort, and I’m grateful.”
The self-bag drop system uses software capable of analyzing key physical features on more than 50,000 forms of ID from nearly 200 countries that a Guest could potentially use when travelling in the United States. Combined with the units’ scanning hardware, the software confirms the authenticity of an ID and rejects fraudulent documents.
Taking care of our Guests and Team Members is and has always been Spirit’s top priority. The airline has a multi-layered safety approach that includes requiring all Guests and Team Members to wear face coverings. Every plane in our Fit Fleet® uses state-of-the-art, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that capture 99.97% of particles and filter the air for contaminants every 3 minutes.
Between each flight, enhanced cleaning procedures focus on high-touch areas such as tray tables and armrests using hospital-grade disinfectants. Spirit also uses two EPA-registered fogging treatments. The first applies a safe, high-grade disinfectant that’s effective against coronaviruses. The second uses an antimicrobial product that forms an invisible barrier on all surfaces that kills bacteria and viruses on contact for 30 days. Please visit Spirit’s COVID-19 Information Center for more information on safety enhancements.