Your face as your passport? New technology will streamline journeys from check-in to take-off

2018-11-06 10:30
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Facial Recognition System concept.

(Photo: iStock)

Never shying away from adopting the newest technologies, London's Heathrow is once again showing exactly why it is one of the world's top international airports with the roll out of a revolutionary end-to-end biometrics trial. 

Heathrow, in London, the top international airport for South African business travellers and one of the most popular thoroughfares for South African leisure travellers is trialling the technology that will see facial recognition replacing the need for traditional travel documents by mid-2019.

“As an industry leader, Flight Centre applauds this kind of innovation and would like to encourage our own government to consider similar innovation at our South African airports. Facial recognition is the future of the airport experience and can considerably speed up the airport process for both business and leisure travellers,” says Andrew Stark, MD Flight Centre Travel Group.

SEE: Home Affairs launches new automated biometric ID system

The English capital has long been a popular destination and thoroughfare for South African travellers. According to data gathered from Corporate Traveller, Heathrow has officially been recognised as the top international airport for corporate traffic originating in South Africa in 2018.

London - gateway to Europe and beyond

“London is the gateway to Europe and beyond and has consistently been one of the top business destinations internationally,” says Oz Desai, Corporate Traveller GM.

Airlines have been steadily increasing their capacity between the two destinations due in no small part to the popularity of the route. At the beginning of the year, Virgin Atlantic announced a second daily service between London Heathrow and Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport.  British Airways has also increased flights between South Africa and London and has launched a new flight to the UK capital from Durban – the only direct non-stop route from Durban to the UK and Europe.

SEE: BA increase its Joburg weekly flights as Durban direct to London launches

Heathrow's new biometric capability/technology will see passengers' journeys streamlined from check-in to take-off. The airport claims that the technology could reduce the average passenger's journey by up to a third. Using facial recognition at check-in, bag drops, security lanes and boarding gates - travelling through the airport is set to become a seamless experience. The long-term aim of the technology will be for passengers to be able to walk through the airport without breaking their stride.

heathrow, biometrics, london, travel, technology(Photo: Supplied, Heathrow Media Centre)
heathrow, biometrics, london, travel, technology(Photo: Supplied, Heathrow Media Centre)

heathrow, biometrics, london, travel, technology(Photo: Supplied, Heathrow Media Centre)

At present, the manual authentication methods mean that passengers need to produce different travel documents such as passports, boarding cards, ID and booking reference numbers to different agents to prove they're authorised to travel. Offering the option of instant facial recognition will afford travellers and airport the staff the ability to shorten this process.

heathrow, biometrics, london, travel, technology(Photo: Supplied, Heathrow Media Centre)

A more seamless airport experience

“A more seamless experience at this popular airport will certainly be welcomed by our clients,” says Desai.

Desai notes that a recent IATA Global Passenger Survey identified airport security/border control and boarding processes as two of the biggest pain points for passengers. To improve the boarding experience, the top desire of passengers is more efficient queuing at boarding gates (64%). The survey also said that these passengers would be prepared to share biometric information in exchange for a smoother transit.

For now, the technology will only be available for South Africans departing from Heathrow and will not impact arrivals. A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport explained that South African travellers will be able to enjoy the new service at check-in to bag drop, security and departure gates. She warned however that the availability of the service will depend on the airlines that sign up to the service and on whether the passport nationalities have biometric chips.

SEE: #TravelTrends: 6 technology trends in the travel and tourism industry in 2018 

Though London's Heathrow is the latest, and perhaps most famous, adopter of biometric technology, it is certainly not the first. May airports around the world such as LAX and Mexico City International Airport have adopted or are trialling the technology. You can find more about that by read more here: Say goodbye to your passport: Biometric airports across the world

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