Airport check-ins for passengers are heading for higher technological ground.
The Transportation Security Administration is testing a system that checks identification and boarding passes by machine rather than the standard visual check by officers.
The tests began last week at Washington-Dulles International Airport and will start Tuesday at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and April 23 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The review will last several months, gauging such things as how fast passengers move through the line and how accurate the machines are.
While TSA officers have been checking identification with black lights and magnifying glasses, the machines are geared to recognize all valid identification, ranging from driver's licenses to tribal IDs and U.S. and foreign passports.
TSA hopes the machines will do a more efficient job weeding out fraudulent documents and getting passengers to their planes.
"For efficiency, it is fantastic," says Domenic Bianchini, TSA director of checkpoint technology. "We think it's a valuable technology, and we think over time we will see the real value added."
As demonstrated at Dulles, passengers step up to the TSA desk and scan the bar codes of their boarding passes, like a can of soup at the self-checkout at a grocery store. The TSA officer scans the identification, which the machine authenticates and compares with the boarding pass.
The machine doesn't store any personal information about the passenger, says Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman.
A discrepancy can lead to more questions or checking the identification more closely. When a TSA officer had a question last week about the identification of a bespectacled man in khakis and a dark blazer, she scrutinized the driver's license under a magnifying glass and then asked a few more questions before sending the passenger on his way.
If a fraudulent document is found, the passenger is referred to law-enforcement officials for possible charges.
The first 30 machines cost $3.2 million, Soule says. Three companies — BAE Systems Information Solutions, Trans Digital Technologies and NCR Government Systems — provided the initial machines that were customized for TSA.