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Airline says thumbprint could speed boarding

SEATTLE — The next breakthrough in paperless airline ticketing may be under your thumb — literally.

Alaska Airlines is exploring using fingerprints to replace the travel documents, driver’s licenses, and credit cards now needed to get on a jet. It would be the first US carrier to employ biometrics for boarding passes and inflight purchases.

The digit scans are designed to save harried travelers seconds at bag drops, checkpoints, and passenger lounges. Multiplied across thousands of people slogging through busy concourses, the time savings would mean a ‘‘substantially faster experience,’’ said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst. ‘‘Air travel is about moving quickly, and yet airports are one of the places where travelers seem to move the slowest,’’ he said.

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It’s Alaska Airlines’ latest effort to use technology to distinguish itself. The carrier pioneered online ticketing and satellite navigation for jet landings in the 1990s, introduced wireless check-in in 2001, and last year became the first airline to accept Google Wallet.

The carrier started testing the system Aug. 21 at a frequent fliers lounge in Seattle. Encouraged by the response, Alaska put print readers at all four of its “Board Rooms.” Going beyond lounges is more complicated. The carrier must persuade regulators its device is foolproof and will safeguard privacy. And it faces another challenge: handling all the data on a normal boarding pass. ‘‘You’re not going to be able to look at your finger and go, ‘Look I’m in 16D,’ ” said Sandy Stelling, an Alaska executive.