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Air Canada has become the first airline in Canada to roll out facial recognition technology as an option to confirm customer identification.
The airline said a pilot project using digital identification is already underway as of Tuesday for customers boarding some flights from Vancouver International Airport to Winnipeg, and for customers at the Air Canada Café at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Eligible customers will receive invitations to use the digital ID option, along with instructions on how to create “their secure digital faceprint.”
Craig Landry, executive vice-president and chief operations officer at Air Canada, said digital identification is a voluntary option for customers, many of whom he said already use digital credentials to unlock mobile phones and make financial transactions.
“We are very excited to now take a leadership position in Canada and test digital identification using facial recognition technology to validate customer identification quickly, securely and accurately at select airport touchpoints,” Landry said in a news release.
People who don’t want to use the digital ID can board their flights as they normally would, Air Canada said, by using their boarding pass and government issued photo ID.
Air Canada mobile app users creating a digital profile will be prompted to take a picture of their passport, scan the passport chip and then take a selfie. Air Canada said facial recognition will take measurements of the customer’s face in both images and authenticate the person if both photos match.
If that process is successful, Air Canada said the customer’s phone will then create a digital profile that contains their selfie and passport details. Facial biometrics are “immediately deleted” and do not remain part of the customer’s Air Canada digital profile.
The airline said the digital identification is a single feature on Air Canada app, with biometric data encrypted and stored on the customer’s phone. Extra consent must be provided from the customer to use the data on the day of travel, and Air Canada said the data will be retained for up to 36 hours.
Air Canada’s digital ID program is not related to any government programs, but Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the federal government is “eager to move forward” with such programs to “modernize the traveller journey” across the country.
“Air Canada's pilot project will speed up processes at YVR, and other airports where it's established, while respecting robust privacy measures and security standards,” Alghabra said in a written statement.
“This project has great potential in making gate boarding easier and faster for Canadian passengers, while maintaining strong safety measures.”