American Airlines Scans Passports via NFC Mobile App

International airline check-in automation has taken a step forward with the adoption of NFC technology to recognize passports.
Published: December 23, 2019

Automating airline check-in operations has not been new for at least a decade. Gradually, companies have been trying to reduce long passenger queues at airport counters as travelers wait to receive their boarding passes. As such, self-service kiosks are increasingly proliferating at airports.

In this movement, along with enhancing smartphone capabilities and app advancements, airlines have begun offering mobile phone check-in tools along with their customer-loyalty plans. In addition to making life easier for passengers, this ensures access to mile-point programs. The big challenge was in reading passports via an app and thereby enabling travelers to hand over their boarding pass (a QR code on a smartphone screen) electronically.

For those checking in on an international flight, American Airlines (AA) has almost completely eliminated the need to visit an airport kiosk. The airline has added passport scanning to its mobile app, making it the first to offer passport chip scanning. With this initiative, the company has taken a step forward in improving the experience of its customers.

With the system, travelers can securely transmit information directly via a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip embedded in their passport. This allows customers to proceed directly to a departure gate for international flights without having documents checked by a customer service agent at the airport counter. The system eliminates the need for passengers to visit a lobby kiosk, AA explains, noting that the new feature utilizes secure passport chip technology for international boarding to make the check-in process faster. Passports worldwide are being standardized with NFC, using a system designed to speed up passenger entry and exit processes for border authorities.

Passengers who do not need to check bags—that is, who only have carry-on luggage—can proceed directly to an international flight boarding gate without having to stop at AA’s counter. The airline’s employees still conduct a final check of boarding passes as each passenger is about to board an aircraft.

“We are continually adding features to our app to make travel easier and worry-free for our customers,” says Maya Leibman, American Airlines’ chief information officer. “Mobile passport verification removes a time-consuming step, providing our passengers with a smoother check-in experience for international flights.”

Customers currently departing from international flights and checking in to the app have their passports checked again at the airport. This step is required even if a customer has uploaded a passport photo via the mobile app. With this enhancement, each traveler will be prompted to enter his or her passport information and scan it via an iOS or Android device. The app provides instructions on how to do so.

Mobile passport scanning is the latest in a long line of new customer features that AA has deployed in its application to make it easier for customers to travel, the company repots. Other recent introductions include boarding notifications, Siri shortcuts and a dark-mode option.

American has also launched additional services to enhance the travel experience, including international biometric boarding, online 3D aircraft virtual tours, a redesigned self-service kiosk menu that simplifies the check-in process, and an enhanced family-seating approach. The latter guarantees that adults can sit with children under 14 years of age when they are traveling together on the same reservation.

American Airlines offers 6,800 daily flights to more than 365 destinations throughout 61 countries, from its U.S. hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. With 130,000 members on its global team, AA serves more than 200 million customers annually.

Since 2013, American has invested more than $28 billion in its products and personnel, and it now operates one of the youngest fleets among U.S. network operators, with planes equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi, flat seats and in-flight entertainment. AA also has enhanced its air and ground food and beverage options at its Admirals Club and Flagship lounges.

American Airlines was recently named a Five Star Global Airline by the Airline Passenger Experience Association, as well as Airline of the Year by Air Transport World. AA is a founding member of Oneworld, whose member airlines serve 1,100 destinations throughout 180 countries and territories.