With the help of 200 volunteer frequent fliers, the Seattle-based carrier just completed a test program at Mineta San Jose International Airport that allowed passengers to use their fingerprints instead of government-issued IDs and boarding passes to drop off their bags, pass through the security checkpoint and board their planes.
Alaska chose San Jose as the test site because it's an early adopter community, there are a lot of tech-savvy commuters who fly regularly and because it has the CLEAR program in place.
CLEAR uses fingerprints and iris scans for passenger identification and offers expedited security clearance at 12 domestic airports for a $179 annual fee.
For the test, Alaska employees approached some passengers at the airport with an invitation to participate. Others received invites via email. No fees were required to be part of the test, which began enrolling participants in April and concluded this week.
"Our vision is simplify the day of travel and have a customer get from their car, through the airport and to their seat without having to pull out a government-issued ID," said Jerry Tolzman, Alaska Airlines' customer R&D manager.
Those who signed up for the test went through an enrollment process that took about 20 minutes. After that, they were permitted to use their fingerprints to access the TSA screening area through the CLEAR lane. Fingerprint readers at the boarding gates were able to pull up a passenger's boarding pass for the gate agent to review.
"The feedback was very positive," said Tolzman. "On a survey scale of 'dissatisfied' to 'delighted' over 85% of the participants were delighted with the system."
This isn't the first time Alaska Airlines has used biometrics to give passengers a bit of special treatment.
In 2014, the airline asked 10,000 customers with Board Room lounge memberships if they'd like to use their fingerprints to gain expedited access to lounge rooms in Seattle, Anchorage, Portland and Los Angeles at no extra cost.
Eight thousand members said yes immediately and customers are still enrolling.
Tolzam said Alaska is currently reviewing the data from the San Jose biometrics trial and can't say yet what the next steps might be. And while the technology has been tested in some European airports and is being touted by many as a way to improve security, "we really wanted to learn about the ease and simplicity of not having to have your boarding pass and your government issued ID," said Tolzman, "that you could just use your fingerprint."