Spirit Airlines rolling out agent-less checked baggage drop

Author: Gregory Wallace, CNN Business
Published: Updated:
Spirit Airlines rolling out agent-less checked baggage drop. (JIM WATSON/AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Spirit says it will be the first airline in the US to allow domestic passengers to check bags without speaking to an agent. Instead, customers will be able to interact only with a facial scanner before dropping off their luggage.

The practice could mean a more convenient interaction for customers — but it also means there will be no friendly agent who may let a slightly overweight bag through without a fee.

Many airlines already allow customers to check in for flights without speaking to an agent. But security rules require airlines to verify the identity of passengers who are checking bags.

Spirit says its new technology uses face-scanning technology to compare a passenger’s identity with his or her identification card, like a driver’s license or passport. It then compares the information on the ID with the reservation information. Passengers then pay any baggage fees and tag their bags.

The interaction with the computer takes about 70 seconds, it said.

The airline said the system is currently undergoing testing at New York’s LaGuardia and Chicago’s O’Hare airports. While the technology is awaiting government approval, its agents will continue to verify passenger IDs.

Spirit said the ID information is not shared with the government or other companies.

Driven by the coronavirus pandemic, other airlines are also working on ways to reduce touchpoints and interactions. The Transportation Security Administration is rolling out technology improvements that verify passenger identity and mean fewer interactions between passengers and its officers.

The TSA said it believes biometric security allows for “reducing physical contact, improving efficiency, and most importantly, enhancing security.”

“Automated bag drop solutions are at the forefront of this technology implementation, and are leveraging cutting edge ID verification and biometric matching technologies,” spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Spirit said it began developing the technology before the outbreak, and it said it hopes fewer in-person interactions will make passengers feel safer traveling.

“Limiting touchpoints and unnecessary face-to-face interactions will change the way airports operate,” Spirit president and CEO Ted Christie said in a statement.

The airline operates an ultra-low-cost business model, and the practice will allow it to cut costs. It says passengers check about 1,000 bags daily right now at those two airports.

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