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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Smoother travels? Seamless airports?

We all expect our travels to be easier and smoother, especially when it comes to air passenger journeys in airports and immigration posts. Our secure transactions industry has been helping to achieve this goal for years. However, the Covid-19 crisis demonstrates that one of the first mitigation measures taken by governments is restricting international travels. Travels after the crisis may become totally different for passengers: biometrics will take precedence over manual checks at airports.

The ongoing health crisis not only drastically reduces each of us abilities to fly internationally, but also drives the expansion of contactless technologies. Emirates are launching an integrated biometric path at Dubai International airport (DXB). They use a combination of facial and iris recognition to identify and authenticate passengers at various steps of their airport journey: check in, immigration formalities, access to the Emirates Lounge and flight boarding. All these interactions happen in contactless mode thus supporting stricter health and safety procedures. The project even includes a “Smart Tunnel” where passengers simply walk through a tunnel and are “cleared” by immigration authorities without human intervention or the need for a physical passport stamp.

At the same time, the AirAsia Group is deploying a technology they call F.A.C.E.S (Fast Airport Clearance Experience System), in collaboration with Vision-Box. The system provides mobile digital ID enrolment, biometric facial recognition at check-in (FACES), automated bag-drop self-service, automated temperature checks, security and boarding for seamless traveler identification and clearance.

Also in Asia, Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) announced the application of iris patterns and face scanning as the main biometric markers for travelers at all immigration checkpoints, replacing fingerprints. In this case, passengers at automated immigration lanes scan their passports as usual and, then, go to the next step where instead of checking their fingerprints, their irises and facial features are scanned after they remove their masks. The system is currently for those who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with the ICA. Fingerprints will still be used if the other two biometric identifiers are not available. This technology has been piloted in Changi Airport and Tuas checkpoint with Malaysia since 2019. In 2022, the ICA intends to allow residents to be able to clear the immigration system even without presenting a passport.

In the US, American Airlines will be piloting a new touchless mobile identity system at Dallas/Fort Worth International and Reagan National airports that will allow passengers to verify their identities with their faces at the check-in desk. Air travelers will have to create a mobile ID on their mobile device (Apple or Android) and to upload their passport or driver’s license, a photo of themselves and consent for their mobile ID to be shared and used when they travel. When they reach the airport, a tablet will take their picture, and their biometric information will be matched against the mobile ID shared from their device. At first, the system will only cover bag drop-off and check-in, but it is intended to be expanded to every airport stop point to make it easier for passengers to move more smoothly through the airport.

Air travel of tomorrow will undoubtedly be smoother. However, one may wonder how the collected data, that include biographic information contained in passports combined with biometric identification will be managed by airports, airlines and immigration authorities. Before they earn each of us’ confidence they will have to answer questions such as how will these data be protected? Will they be used in relation with other databases? How privacy will be guaranteed? And how and when will these data be deleted?

Photo credits: Riccardo Bresciani on Pexels - Suganth on Unsplash - Francesca Tirico on Unsplash - K Hsu on Unsplash

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