Facial recognition technology could one day change the process of air travel. In China, the technology has been to be used to speed up security checks. Now, one of Shanghai’s main airports has integrated it into the check-in process.

Travelers with Chinese identity cards could use self-service at Shanghai’s Hongquiao Airport for all basic processes before boarding a flight, including check-in, security clearance, and boarding. To use the machines, a passenger could scan their photo ID. The system checks the passengers's appearance against the Chinese national ID database, saving the data that would allow the traveler to pass through the security checks and board the aircraft.

Hongquiao Airport is one of two major airports serving the Shanghai area which handles domestic and regional flights. Most long-haul and international flights use Pudong Airport.

Among the first airlines where travelers could use the technology with is Spring Airlines, which the airline’s general manager at Hongquiao Airport stated: “It is the first time in China to achieve self-service for the whole check-in process.” According to Spring Airlines, 87 percent of 5,017 people who took Spring Airlines flights on Monday out of Hongquiao Airport used the self-service kiosks.

Based on images from Chinese press, the check kiosks are similar to what you can find at Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 4, which has adopted the similar automated approach that would allow you to check-in, clear security, and board your flight with minimum contact with airline staff. 

Beyond air travel, China has been at the forefront of integrating facial recognition technology in government, schools, and business. Cities in the country have used the technology to identify jaywalkers using surveillance cameras throughout the streets, or catching reactions of students in classrooms. American fast food chain KFC's restaurants in China have experimented with the technology to predict customer orders based on searches on the Chinese version of Google - Baidu.

Along with Hongquiao Airport, the technology is currently being evaluated and tested at airports in Beijing and Nanyang.

While it is being touted as a way to reduce processing times, some have expressed concerns citing the few rules governing the use of the data. "Authorities are using biometric and artificial intelligence to record and track people for social control purposes," said Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. "We are concerned about the increasing integration and use of facial recognition technologies throughout the country because it provides more and more data points for the authorities to track people."



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