Passport-less check-ins: The second Golden Age of travel

Facial recognition technology in airports would speed up the check-in process. Source: Shutterstock

TRAVEL is no longer a luxury only for the well-heeled. Thanks to affordable holiday package deals, plummeting flight costs, and the impact of globalization on the industry, travel is featuring more prominently on must-do lists across the world. The result of this is airports having to deal with larger passenger numbers and an ever-increasing demand for better efficiency.

But airports are learning to cope with this pressure, and a new age of travel is being ushered in – one that’s contactless and seamless, without time-consuming queues at check-in counters and immigration.

Biometric devices that use facial recognition technology to identify passengers are being deployed in numerous airports across the world. They have already been introduced at Australian, US and Japanese airports, with Amsterdam’s Schiphol and Paris Charles De Gaulle also trialling the technology.

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The technology is also more available today; the Australian government aims to have 90 percent of its airport processing automated by 2020. As part of its Seamless Traveler program, the government has budgeted just under AUD94 million to install the systems in its airports over a course of five years.

It’s a decent-sized investment but speeding up passenger processing time is well worth the cost.

Long queues at immigration could be a thing of the past with the introduction of biometric machines. Source: joyfull/Shutterstock

Automating passenger processing largely means removing the human element from the job, meaning more people can be identified at a quicker rate, which will then ease traffic. The security systems will also be installed at seaports. In a 2015 statement released at the beginning of the program, Australia’s immigration department said:

“Biometric capability will reduce manual processes, allowing a fast, seamless self-processing experience of up to 90 percent of travelers and enable border control to concentrate on passengers of interest.”

The technology has also been implemented at three gates at London’s Heathrow airport, with another 33 gates set to be kitted out. The devices involve scanning the passenger’s facial features at the main security area. One further facial scan at the departure gate allows passengers to board their flight without having to show passports and further documentation.

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A spokeswoman for British Airways said:

“Our biometric gates use infra-red camera technology to create a digital facial scan of the customer – recognising key facial features to create a unique template. This data is recorded at the entrance to security and matched at the self-boarding gate, prior to boarding.

“The scan is held long enough to meet border protection regulations and deleted shortly after the customer has travelled.”

She continued that with time, it is hoped that further systems will be installed for passengers travelling internationally, as the technology is currently only being offered for domestic flights.

“This new technology has enabled our frontline colleagues to spend more time interacting with customers and delivering the excellent service that our customers expect. We are currently exploring ways in which we can introduce this system to our international flights, but we don’t yet have a date for this to happen.”

There have been concerns about the accuracy of facial recognition systems, with the possibility that it has the potential to misidentify passengers. There have been claims that skin colour, altering of the face through plastic surgery, and even lighting can cause identification issues.

In a company announcement in June, International Air Transport Association member Hou Kan remained positive about the system’s flaws, and expressed belief in its increasing accuracy over time.

“Facial expressions, lighting in the environment, photo angles, and whether one is wearing make-up are all factors. With the continued advancement in artificial intelligence and big data, facial recognition technology and application have both seen leaps in progress,” he said, according to South China Morning Post.

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Adhering to certain rules such as pulling hair away from the face, and facing the scanner head-on, is expected to prevent many of these misidentification issues from occurring.

Undoubtedly, the future of travel is inextricably linked with advancing technology.

With online check-ins, self-service bag check-ins and now the rise of facial recognition, the future of travel looks to be an exciting one.

In many ways, the human aspect is gradually being removed from airport operations, and while this will remain essential, it will most likely be on a much smaller scale. It seems the second golden age of travel is arriving, and this time, both man and machine stand at the forefront.