If you’ve flown United Airlines out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) since Feb. 7 and are a TSA PreCheck member, you may have opted to participate in an expedited check-in process.

With the addition of the TSA PreCheck Touchless ID program, eligible United flyers can use their face to both pass through security and check their bag(s) without having to show their boarding pass or a driver’s license.

I recently checked out the carrier’s Touchless ID bag drop and security screening process at O’Hare. Here’s what it was like.

Touchless ID bag drop shortcut

United first launched its Touchless ID bag drop shortcut at select airports in 2022 after testing one at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in August 2021; however, this was my first time seeing it in the flesh as someone who does not regularly fly United. If that’s also the case for you, you might have missed the memo.

But fear not. This feature is now available at all domestic United hubs: ORD, EWR, Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Denver International Airport (DEN), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

As mentioned above, this shortcut allows you to biometrically check your bags via a facial scan before an agent prints your bag tags. In total, the process takes the average user 20 seconds, per a United spokesperson, but this can vary.

Based on my observation in real-time, it took users between 18 and 47 seconds from when they walked up to the kiosk to when their baggage tags were printed.

Contrasting this experience to the traditional two-step check-in process, Touchless ID bag drop users should save at least five to seven minutes overall. This is based on it taking the average non-Touchless ID customer eight to 10 minutes to check in for their flight upon arrival at the airport, according to the airline.

UNITED.COM

Customers must consent to use Touchless ID on the United app when checking in for their flight. Then, they should receive a boarding pass with the green TSA PreCheck Touchless ID badge and a green border.

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CAROLINE TANNER/THE POINTS GUY

At this point, users’ boarding passes will already be associated with the number of bags they’re checking. They can then head directly to the Touchless ID bag drop shortcut area upon arriving at O’Hare (and eligible airports), bypassing the regular check-in line.

At O’Hare, the area in Concourse B of Terminal 1 is clearly marked with signs and color-coded with the same green color as what you’ll find on your boarding pass; this indicates your participation in the program. You’ll also have the option to use the Touchless ID bag drop at the curbside check-in area on Level 2, near door 1E, before security and departures.

CAROLINE TANNER/THE POINTS GUY

As of March, there are two Touchless ID bag drop shortcut kiosk areas in the United terminal at O’Hare. They are not restricted to TSA PreCheck members; non-TSA PreCheck can also use them but must scan their boarding pass in order to print baggage tags. Even so, this process should take two minutes or less, according to United.

Related: Which airports and airlines use TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck Touchless ID process

Accompanying the bag drop shortcut is the Touchless ID program, enabling TSA PreCheck members flying United or Delta Air Lines at select airports to use facial recognition to pass through TSA PreCheck security in a few seconds.

Since testing began last month, more than 15,000 United customers have used this at O’Hare, according to United.

The facial scan allows travelers to pass through security in just a few seconds, eliminating the need for travelers to show their physical ID or boarding pass to verify their identity.

Like the Touchless ID bag drop feature, this feature is available for United flyers with a TSA PreCheck membership at ORD and LAX. At O’Hare, the TSA PreCheck Touchless ID line is clearly marked with the same green signage. You’ll find it in Terminal 1 to the left of all the United check-in desks, the regular TSA PreCheck lane and Clear.

To use the TSA PreCheck Touchless ID lane, which is directly next to the TSA PreCheck lane, you must have opted in via the United app ahead of your flight. When approaching both lines, the Transportation Security Administration agent will verify you have the aforementioned Touchelss ID PreCheck logo on your boarding pass before directing you to the left lane. From there, you approach the TSA security officer and the computed tomography X-ray system, which takes a quick facial scan. It happens so quickly that you may not even realize it’s done.

Based on my reporting for this story, the process really is that simple and fast, taking travelers between two and six seconds to verify their identity. Although no ID is required, United and the TSA still advise travelers to bring a valid ID; the TSA reserves the right to randomly check a traveler’s ID at any point, regardless of participation in this or an expedited security program.

Touchless ID participants should know that the program does not merge with Clear in the way TSA PreCheck does. While Clear members who also participate in TSA PreCheck are escorted to the front of the TSA PreCheck line after verifying their identity via a Clear pod, Touchless ID does not merge with Clear, United’s spokesperson said.

At the time of my visit, the TSA PreCheck Touchless ID line was longer at periods than the regular TSA PreCheck line. A United employee noted that it “gets backed up” due to the prevalence of business travelers passing through Chicago during the week while only one Transportation Security Officer is assigned to the line.

Even so, the process I observed was incredibly smooth and fast overall.

“The O’Hare [TSA PreCheck Touchless ID] launch has been the best TSA has seen,” a spokesperson from United said. “People like this technology, and I think they want more.”

Related: Why you should get TSA PreCheck and Clear — and how you can save on both

Powered by the United app

The United representatives I met with largely credit the documented success of their Touchless ID bag drop and expedited security experience to the step-by-step instructions provided on the day of travel in the airline’s app. This, along with the aforementioned color coordination in the app and on signage directing users at the airport, makes the experience seamless for travelers.

Nearly 70% of United customers used the app for day-of travel assistance in 2023, with 38 million United flyers bypassing the lobby in 2023, meaning they checked in before arriving at the airport and went straight to security, according to United. Almost 100 million people used the United mobile app to check in for a flight last year, a carrier spokesperson added, a number the airline intends to grow.

Related: United’s app just got even more useful for iPhone users

Bottom line

While still in a pilot period, United hopes to fully roll out TSA PreCheck Touchless ID at ORD later this year, pending TSA review, while aiming to add it and bag drop shortcuts at more airports. The security checkpoint feature is also available for United travelers at LAX, where the bag drop shortcut is expected to be available by the end of the month.

Even though I don’t regularly fly United, I have considered the airline more since moving to a hub in 2022. After my recent experience using this new program, I’m intrigued enough to consider becoming a United loyalist in the future, especially as questions around the value of expedited security programs like Clear continue to get raised.

Based on what I saw, United could not make it any easier for travelers to navigate this process. When airlines and the TSA work together to bring a technologically forward initiative to travelers, I’m hopeful, even just briefly, that the U.S. travel experience can one day compare to the efficiency we see at airports abroad.

In the meantime, other airlines appear to be taking note, though United remains ahead of the rest … for now.

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