Long waits at the airport will soon be a thing of the past

Biometric technology is reaching a point where getting from A to B will be truly seamless

Emirates is extending its use of biometric recognition technologies at Dubai International Airport. Photo: Emirates
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Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest international hub. It handled 41.6 million passengers in the first half of 2023 and predicts it will deal with 85 million over the year, with record-breaking numbers during the winter season. It is also one of the world’s fastest growing passenger and cargo hubs, with plans in place that will see it handle up to 120 million passengers annually within 15 years.

This growth in demand produces significant pressure points, and high technology, such as AI and biometrics, are one of the biggest enablers when it comes to addressing the challenges that such major airports face. Biometrics can strike an important balance between speed and security, supporting the optimal flow of passengers through an airport.

The International Air Transport Association recently announced the results of its 2023 Global Passenger Survey. These conclusively showed that passengers continue to prioritise speed and convenience over all other aspects of travel. To deliver this, they are increasingly embracing biometrics and off-airport processes – when ticketing and baggage checking take place at a remote terminal and the passenger is delivered directly to their airplane.

The survey noted that passengers want to spend less time booking and want to move through the airport faster. They expect streamlined processes and minimal wait times, and are happy to use biometrics to speed up procedures, preferring to complete more processes off-site before arriving at the airport, ready to fly.

The report also showed that confidence in biometric authentication is on the rise. In the past 12 months, 46 per cent of passengers used biometrics at an airport, up from 34 per cent in 2022. Furthermore, three quarters of passengers prefer using biometric data over traditional passports and boarding passes. Of those who've used biometric solutions during their travels, nearly half reported an 85 per cent satisfaction rate. Although data protection remains a concern for half of the travellers, 40 per cent would be more open to using biometrics if they were confident that their personal information is secure – this is an increase from 33 per cent in 2022.

Passengers expect minimal wait times, and are happy to use biometrics to speed up procedures

The power of biometrics is the ability to create a fast and frictionless traveller experience, and it offers the next step in travel technology, increasing both user confidence and security. Biometric systems are mostly used to ease existing immigration processes at airports, such as those incorporated into Automated Border Control gates. These eGates can use a variety of biometric patterns – facial, fingerprints, iris – that are also used for identity and travel documents and even combine them to offer an extra degree of protection.

When applied to travellers for a smooth end-to-end experience, these technologies can be used to create a unique and temporary ID from the moment of check-in, to allow for a quick and secure journey through an airport, seaport or land border. This makes bag drops, border controls, security and boarding gate access much faster. Passengers just need to enroll upon check-in through a secure airline app and consent to have their biometric data used to authenticate them at each ID checkpoint at the airport. Each checkpoint will include a pod with a camera that will identify the passenger in less than two seconds, removing the requirement for the traveller to queue and show an ID card and a flight ticket.

Featuring a camera and a high-resolution LCD screen, Thales biometric pod, for instance, can recognise a pre-enrolled traveller’s iris and face at a distance ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 metres, with incredible accuracy. The best trained pair of eyes only correctly matches a face with a picture about 80 per cent of the time. In contrast, the combination of AI and the latest facial-recognition systems can deliver exceptional levels of speed, accuracy, and reliability. And for additional security and peace of mind, the technology works in real time, with the token erased once the flight has taken off, ensuring absolute data privacy.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the AI and biometric technologies we build into our systems must meet stringent requirements. This is something that the leadership in the UAE has also stressed. To be trusted, technologies should be transparent, understandable and ethical.

Biometric technologies have the power to improve airports’ operational efficiency by integrating automation without compromising passenger and employee security or confidentiality. Setting responsible biometrics boosts that power, and improves that ability for the benefit of traveller, airline and airport operations. They are an embodiment of how technologies can build a safer, greener, more inclusive future.

The responsible use of biometrics offers a faster fly-to-gate experience, giving a stress-free, contactless, end-to-end passenger journey within an airport terminal. It is the future of travel technology.

Published: December 18, 2023, 7:00 AM