JetBlue Facial Recognition Software Shocks Unaware Passenger

JetBlue uses facial recognition software to speed up the security and boarding process.
Jessica Miley

A passenger on a JetBlue flight was shocked when instead of showing her boarding pass to a staff member was instead directed to a camera. The device used facial recognition software to identify her and allow her to board the plane.

Taking to Twitter to share her experience, MacKenzie Fegan was clearly shaken by the event and asked the internet to clarify her experience. Jetblue quickly responded saying she does have the option to opt out of using the facial recognition software if she wants.

The airline company also apologized to MacKenzie if she was uncomfortable. But an apology wasn’t enough for Fegan who wanted to know when she had ‘opted in’ and how JetBlue knew what she looked like.

JetBlue conduit for your data

JetBlue responded explaining, "The information is provided by the United States Department of Homeland Security from existing holdings."


Fegan rightly pondered how a private company had her data and what else they were doing with it, however, JetBlue insists they don't’ hold the data but merely have secure access to it. It's "securely transmitted to the Customs and Border Protection database,” they tweeted.

Facial recognition software can have its advantages, in this case, it's designed to speed up the security checkpoints in airports. But we have already seen many problems with the still-emerging technology including racial bias.

Facial recognition keeps kids alert

Facial recognition software, when teamed with other types of databases, can be a helpful or highly dangerous tool. In China, facial recognition software is being used in combination of social databases that can give police and other authorities the ability to know a person's credit score while they are on the street.

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In some schools in China, a facial recognition system is being tested that scans a classroom to identify the faces of children deemed not to be paying attention. Other uses of the technology include by pop stars like Taylor Swift who have used it at concerts to look for known stalkers in the crowd.

Biometrics will play a more significant role

Microsoft is so concerned about the development of facial recognition software that they have developed six guiding principles that they will use to ensure the company maintains a credible level of ethics as they continue to develop the potentially problematic software.

As for JetBlue they pushed Fegan towards a company blog post that was meant to explain the technology to her. Instead of the blog post merely extolled the company's’ willingness to embrace emerging biotechnologies.

“The success of JetBlue’s biometric boarding program is a testament to the airline’s ongoing work to create a personal, helpful and simple experience,” said Ian Deason, senior vice president of customer experience at JetBlue states in the post.

“The boarding touchpoint is an area that needs innovation and we feel biometrics will change the future of air travel as we look to create a more seamless journey throughout the airport.”

Other American airlines that use facial recognition software as part of their boarding procedure include Delta.