Biometric devices at the main security-screening area in Terminal 5 capture a traveler's features along with the boarding pass, and then a facial scan at the gate verifies the person's identity, allowing them to get on the plane without showing documents, BA said in a letter to staff. The system is designed to speed up boarding and reduce errors, it said.
Three gates are now using the equipment, with another 33 planned in the coming months, the carrier said. The system will be used initially only for domestic routes, with the eventual goal of extending it to international flights.
British Airways, a unit of London-based IAG SA, already operates self-service luggage check-in desks at both Heathrow and London Gatwick airports. They're part of a four-year reorganization under Chief Executive Officer Alex Cruz that includes investments to improve passengers' flight access.
"The addition of self-boarding gates, along with self-serve bag drop points, are just two of the ways in which we are investing in areas our customers value most," Troy Warfield, director of customer experience at the airline, said in an emailed response to questions.
The Heathrow facial-scanning setup is starting just as new U.K. and U.S. security measures take effect, forbidding travelers coming from some Middle Eastern locations from bringing laptops and other large consumer electronic devices into plane cabins.
The aviation industry is looking into facial-recognition technology worldwide. Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is testing software to make passport control faster while KLM, the Dutch brand of Air France-KLM Group, is in a three-month trial at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Systems are also being installed in the U.S. and Japan.
European airports are separately exploring methods to scan for explosive liquids without requiring passengers to remove bottles from cabin bags in an effort to improve security and ease what remains one of the most arduous parts of air travel.