Airport Security Phasing Out Boarding Pass Checks

New scanning technology allows TSA agents to verify your ID, and your flight

By Natalie Fiorilli

Published February 24, 2020

Read Time: 3 mins


Going through airport security is about to get a little easier.

New technology coming to airports nationwide will make it possible for Transportation Security Administration agents to move passengers through security without checking their boarding passes.

Known as Credential Authentication Technology, or CAT, the computer system scans a traveler’s government-issued ID to verify its authenticity. The technology then cross-references the data with the TSA’s vetting database, called Secure Flight, and confirms the passenger is listed on a flight that day.

While presenting your boarding pass at the checkpoint isn’t a lengthy process, the new authentication system improves efficiency and enhances airport security, said TSA public affairs spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.

“That’s key for us,” Farbstein said. “We want to make sure that the person standing in front of us is the person that they’re claiming to be.”

Farbstein said the TSA expects to have roughly 500 CAT systems installed at U.S. airports by the end of February. In addition to Pittsburgh International, other airport checkpoints using the technology include Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Miami International Airport.

CAT systems are not currently used in every lane of an airport’s security checkpoint, as the TSA is working to train officers on the new equipment and hopes to continue installing more. Local TSA representatives have installed one system at PIT so far. Travelers in lanes without the new technology will still be asked for their boarding pass.

“Basically, it makes it harder for someone to use a fake ID,” said Farbstein. “The system provides TSA officers with enhanced detection capabilities for identifying fraudulent or expired identification and boarding documents. It also will let the officer know, without the passenger showing their boarding pass, that they are ticketed for that particular airport on that day.”

The authentication system works in conjunction with Secure Flight, which pre-screens passengers after they purchase airplane tickets to identify known or suspected terrorists and others who could be a threat to transportation or national security. The system checks the traveler against such databases as the No Fly List and Terrorist Screening Database.

Travelers must still check in for their flights, either online or at the airport, and still need a digital or paper boarding pass at the gate to get on their flights.

Farbstein urged travelers to make sure the information listed on their boarding passes matches their government-issued IDs.

Previously, a TSA officer could look at your license and see that it reads “Jonathan,” note that your boarding pass says “Jon,” and let you through, she said.

“Now, the CAT machine needs to see a 100 percent match,” she said. “If it doesn’t [match], you’re going to be sent back to the check-in counter to have the airline re-enter your boarding pass with the name that matches your ID.”

The TSA initially introduced the system as a pilot program at six airports in March 2018. Airports selected to host the pilot included Austin-Bergstrom, Miami and Indianapolis International Airport.

Aaron Batt, Federal Security Director for the TSA at Indianapolis International, explained that the new technology has proven beneficial for TSA agents and passengers alike.

“Our agents love it because they don’t have to spend as much time looking at all of the security features in the ID,” said Batt. “For travelers, it’s one less piece of paper, or they don’t have to get their phone out to show their boarding pass. I think it gets us one step closer to where you show up and your biometric [profile] is your identification and your boarding pass, and you won’t have to fumble around for anything else.”

The new technology will work with all of the TSA’s accepted forms of identification, which includes Real IDs, drivers licenses, U.S. passports and passport cards, and U.S. Department of Defense IDs, among others.

However, beginning on Oct. 1, American travelers will not be allowed through security checkpoints in U.S. airports without Real ID, a federally mandated form of identification that meets increased security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards.

The CAT system will not change Pittsburgh International’s myPITpass program, which allows non-ticketed individuals beyond the airport’s security checkpoints at specified times.

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