Queues are a regular occurrence for frequent travellers, whether in regard to long lines at airport security, or the rush hour shuffle into a train station. It is predicted that over the next twenty years the number of air travellers globally is set to double and as security checks become ever more stringent, the queues travellers endure are only going to get longer, if no changes are made.
As ever technology will most likely be the answer in making the traveller experience quicker and more seamless. Biometric technology, using human characteristics for identification, is nothing new. The majority of us use our fingerprint to unlock our smartphones and some may even have a laptop with inbuilt facial recognition technology. In part due to the familiarity of this technology, IATA discovered in a recent survey that 64% of travellers want to see the integration of biometric technology in travel, be that face, iris or fingerprint recognition.
Early adopters of biometric technology
Some individuals may have already noticed the arrival of biometric technology in the travel industry. Initial developments include Delta’s adoption of fingerprint scanners to access their Delta Sky Club’s and their self-service bag drops at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, powered by facial recognition. The four self-service bag drop machines are set to process twice as many customers per hour than a traditional bag drop, thus reducing airport queues and making the traveller experience more seamless. British Airways has installed 36 biometric-enabled self-service boarding gates for domestic flights at Heathrow, Terminal Five. The gates remove the need for travellers to present their boarding pass and passport at the gate, as an image of each traveller is taken at the earlier immigration stage, and then compared with their image at the gate. The gates are successfully accelerating the boarding process, and have led to British Airways trialling the gates for their flights out of the US.
Future biometric technology developments and plans include IATA’s One ID solution. The project plans to use one piece of biometric data to simplify the journey through the airport. The biometric identity token would be used for the booking of flights, security checks, border control and collection of luggage. This technological development would create an enhanced experience for travellers. Some commentators predict that the technology will be harnessed further to include transactions at the airport, so travellers can use their fingerprint or facial recognition to pay for duty-free or a meal and drink at the airport.
Biometrics beyond airlines
Airlines are not alone in making investments in biometric technology, Japan recently announced that in January 2019 they will enforce a new tax on travellers leaving the country, known as the ‘Sayonara Tax.’ The aim of the tax is to raise money for improvements to Japan’s infrastructure, including the introduction of biometric technology at Japan’s airports.
Biometric technology has potential outside of the airport too. Technology is already being worked on to reduce queues at train and underground stations. Travellers in London currently pay for their travel via validators which accept Oyster and contactless payment, as well as traditional paper tickets. However, innovators are actively attempting a more unusual method of biometric technology, palm vein identification, to reduce congestion at stations across London. The pattern of blood vessels in our palms is unique, just like fingerprints, therefore by shining an infrared sensor onto the hand, an individual can be identified. Unlike, fingerprint sensors that become dirty or oily over time and therefore fail to work, palm vein patterns are an excellent method of biometric identification, as the traveller would simply hover their hand over an infrared light to register their journey.
These are just a few of the areas that biometric technology is being adopted, trialled or discussed in the travel space. It will be interesting to see how the technology is adopted further in the coming years and the ways in which it will create a more ‘frictionless’ travel experience.
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