For the first two installments
of our series on privacy and security, we have looked at cybersecurity for
travel brands and the upcoming GDPR deadline – two topics related to data.
privacy and security in travel also relates to the movement of people – not
just information – across borders.
In this third part in the
series, we explore the use of biometric scanning for passenger boarding and
arrival at airports.
Substantial work is underway
to test digital facial scans of air travelers as a way to verify their identity and
expedite the boarding and arrivals processes.
Smartphone ownership is now 77% in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, and more of those devices are
being built with biometric sensors such as fingerprint and facial scanners using
the device’s built-in camera.
As people become more comfortable with this technology,
they are also coming to expect this same fast, easy identity-verification for
many other tasks, including travel.
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According to IATA’s 2017 Global Passenger Survey, 64% of
travelers said biometric systems are their technology of choice for identification
and 72% of passengers want to be able to self-board when flying.
Sean Farrell, SITA’s portfolio director for the government
and security solution line, says biometric facial scanning allows the industry
to move to a more self-service model – preferred by travelers and creating
cost-savings for airlines and airports – and it also can enhance security.
"The basic premise of biometrics and the reason why we are
starting to use biometric as part of our daily lives - opening applications,
interacting with banks, opening laptops - is they actually provide an
additional degree of security in that they prevent someone from being able to forcibly
use your identity,” says Farrell.
Widespread testing of biometric facial scanning is now
underway. In partnership with SITA and U.S. Customs and Border
Patrol, British Airways is using biometric gates at Orlando International
Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
The airline says in L.A. it has been able to
board more than 400 customers in 22 minutes – less than half the time it takes
with traditional manual boarding.
British Airways is also using biometric boarding for all
its domestic flights from Heathrow International Airport’s Terminal 5. And travelers
on select flights from Heathrow to Miami and New York-JFK can use biometric
scanning for their arrival processing.
JetBlue has been working with SITA and CBP since June 2017,
when it launched biometric boarding for flights from Boston to Aruba and then
added it for its Boston to Santiago, Dominican Republic route.
The company says customer response has been very positive,
with more than 90% opting in for self-boarding, and crew members are saving
time by not having to do manual passport inspections.
“Implementing biometrics has allowed us to truly innovate
the airport experience by making the boarding process simpler,” says Joanna
Geraghty, JetBlue’s executive vice president for customer experience.
“We’re continuing conversations with Customs and Border
Protection for a long-term biometric roadmap and plan to incorporate the
technology into other key touch points throughout the travel ribbon.”
Other airlines including Lufthansa, Qantas, Air New
Zealand, KLM and Air Asia are also testing biometric boarding.
... you can expect to see a large scale roll out in the U.S. of certainly biometric exit in the next 18 months or so.
Sean Farrell - SITA
The technology is also being tested for processing of international arrivals.
February, Miami International Airport opened a new federal inspection facility
that it says is “the first in the country completely dedicated to providing
expedited passport screening via facial recognition.”
“They’re talking about having roving customs officers using
iPads… they’re also talking about trying to merge together the different
trusted traveler programs you have in the U.S.… and modernizing those programs
around the use of face biometrics as well,” Farrell says.
“So it’s really a transformation of the travel process both
on the inbound side and the outbound side around using this new technology as
an enabler for improving the passenger experience."
Accelerated adoption of biometric scanning is due to both
growing consumer familiarity with the technology and improvements in the quality
Farrell says SITA is tracking in excess of 98% successful
matches against the CBP database in its work with JetBlue.
Whereas a couple of years ago, accurate scans required
ideal lighting conditions and the subject looking straight at the camera, not
smiling, not wearing anything on their face or head, etc., Farrell says.
can capture a face in less than a second, and it will cope with all of those
situations – hats, glasses, variations in lighting. It works for all passengers
– very tall people, people in wheelchairs, even small children."
Doug Aley is CEO of Ever AI, a company that launched five
years ago as a consumer photo and video storage service that uses facial and
location identification to sort images.
As the technology has been perfected, last
October Ever AI expanded to offer its facial recognition technology to
enterprises including those in the travel and hospitality sector.
Aley says along with accuracy, facial scanning offers a
lower total cost of ownership than other biometric identification systems.
“Cameras are already relatively pervasive,” he says. “So the overall infrastructure cost to add face recognition
to your process is not as extensive as using a fingerprint or retinal scanner,
which is additional infrastructure cost. A lot of our customers that are
rolling out are doing so with the simple iPads that they already have.”
Aley says they have three dozen launches scheduled in the
next year, and he predicts facial scanning will become a standard part of
identity verification in travel.
“In the hospitality industry where you check into an
airline or a hotel or a lounge – those are great use cases for face
recognition. And consumer sentiment seems to be… I just want to check in as
quickly as possible, and if I can be greeted by name, then that’s even better.”
But there are still issues to be resolved, such as how
costs may be divvied up among airlines, airports and government border control
agencies. And Farrell says adoption may be slower for airlines and airports
that are using outdated equipment.
“A lot of it is legacy technology, and I think that’s a
reason why it’s taken a long time for the industry to get to a point where it
is starting to use biometrics,” Farrell says.
“I think those blockers are being removed you can expect to
see a large scale roll out in the U.S. of certainly biometric exit in the next
18 months or so."