Skip to content


Access and Iris Scans

​Next time you fly the friendly skies and take a bite of your airline-provided meal, you may be eating food prepared by Gate Gourmet, a global provider of airline catering and services, which has approximately 130 locations in 28 countries. 

“There’s a great deal of skill and care that goes into producing the food that we provide to our customers,” says Richard Newman, director of corporate security at Gate Gourmet for the United States and Canada. “It’s important to Gate Gourmet that we deliver the highest quality product that we can, in the safest way we can.”

With approximately 25 catering facilities nationwide, Gate Gourmet serves airline clients that fly out of major U.S. airports. 

One of Gate Gourmet’s larger facilities is located at the Washington Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. Employees at the location produce 18,000 to 25,000 meals a day, depending on the season. 

“The busiest fast food restaurant you can think of probably does about 8,000 meals a day,” Newman says. “We’re doing three to four times that just out of the Dulles kitchen.” 

Who gains access to Gate Gourmet facilities is crucial. “As part of a layered approach to security, it’s important that we make sure that the people that are supposed to be on the inside can get inside, and the people that aren’t, don’t,” Newman says.

Beyond protecting its product and the customers it serves, Newman adds that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has its own security guidelines Gate Gourmet must adhere to. 

“Because we’re in the aviation industry—and there is a layer of security that the industry puts on everything that goes on an airplane—those rules apply to us as well,” he explains.  

The operation at a Gate Gourmet kitchen is complex, Newman says. It includes preparing the meals, packing them onto trucks, and delivering them directly to the airplanes and the flight attendants who will ultimately serve the food. 

“When the trucks come back from the airfield, they’ll bring the carts that have the dirty dishes into the kitchen, then we go through the dishwashing process, wash the equipment, and then the whole process starts again,” he says.

To monitor the employees coming in and out of work, Gate Gourmet had been using hand geometry at its Washington Dulles location. With this biometric technology, a user places his or her hand over a scanner that measures the shape of the palm. 

While the palm method was effective at identifying employees, it wasn’t necessarily efficient for the company. “We wanted to move into something that was faster, easier, and touch-free,” Newman notes.

In 2013, Gate Gourmet was on the lookout for a new biometric access control solution, and came across the iCAM iris reader from Iris ID at that year’s ASIS International Seminar and Exhibits in Chicago. “I saw their booth at the convention; they gave me a demonstration, and I was impressed,” Newman explains. 

The Iris ID iCAM is a black rectangular box that mounts to the wall with a built-in camera that measures the iris. When a user approaches the scanner, it adjusts to their height; once it enrolls a user, the technology will automatically return to that setting when the employee uses it again. The viewfinder can also be manually adjusted.

 “For many people it can take the picture and recognize your eyes through your glasses, through your contact lenses—that’s helpful to us,” Newman adds. 

When the system is ready for enrollment and iris capture, a user walks up to the reader, standing about an arm’s length away, and a yellow light appears. Once the administrator presses the enroll button, and the user has the camera properly centered on the bridge of his or her nose, the light turns green. The technology also has an automated voiceover that guides the user through the process. 

Once the iris is properly captured, the administrator adds the rest of the enrollee’s information and registers them as a user in the system. “There’s actually not a photograph stored; it’s all reduced to a code through an algorithm and stored in a database,” Newman explains.

The company evaluated four different solutions from vendors to replace the palm scanner. After narrowing it down to two technologies, including Iris ID’s iCAM, Gate Gourmet began pilot testing the products in February 2014 at Washington Dulles. During the testing, which lasted for two months, the company deployed one technology at the entrance where employees report to work and another at the exit where they leave the premises. 

Gate Gourmet was impressed with the speed of the iCAM, as well as with the price point, which was similar to the palm technology already in place. Newman found that enrollment takes a matter of minutes, and daily use is even faster. 

“It takes one or two seconds to check an employee in, which is four times as fast as the technology it’s replacing,” Newman notes. 

He adds that iris identification results in fewer false positives—when the system thinks the iris belongs to someone else who is registered—than other biometrics like palm reading technology. This is because there are so many unique points within the eye that can be mapped out and recorded by the system, says Newman. 

The company ultimately chose to go with Iris ID, and Newman says the deployment process has been seamless. “Of all the technology that I’ve deployed since I’ve started with the company, this has probably been the easiest rollout just because of the nature of the technology.” 

Employees are granted access in and out of the facilities at the beginning and end of their shifts by having their irises scanned in nearly the same way in which they enrolled. 

To be granted access, Gate Gourmet requires dual authentication. In addition to using the iris scanner, employees must introduce a credential to a card scanner. Newman adds that the iris enrollment process is only for employees. Visitors have a sign-in and escort protocol, and “visitors are issued specific media to identify them,” according to Newman. 

The iris identification registration system is administrated from the Gate Gourmet headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, but each location with iCAMs has the ability to enroll and remove people from the system. This allows the company to keep the registration updated when employees leave Gate Gourmet.

The iris scanners are still being deployed across many of its locations, and Gate Gourmet hopes to eventually install the Iris ID iCAMs at all of its U.S. locations.

Newman emphasizes that upgrading from the previous biometric solution has not compromised security, but only enhanced it, for Gate Gourmet. 

“We’re replacing biometrics with biometrics,” Newman says. “We haven’t surrendered anything by having the iris scanners—this is just the next generation for us.”  

For more information: Tom DeWinter, Iris ID, [email protected],, 609/819-4724 ​