Say goodbye to your passport: Biometric airports across the world

2018-06-18 18:00 - Ethan Van Diemen
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a man has his biometrics scanned

Soon your body will replace your passport (Photo: iStock)

As advances in technology accelerate in scale and pace, everyday human activity will increasingly continue to be disrupted and - hopefully - improved.

One way that technological disruption is touching the lives of human beings can be seen in the travel, tourism and aviation sectors and their related infrastructures. Of particular interest is biometrics and the concept of ‘Single Travel Token’.

Imagine that, instead of waiting in a line to get your boarding passes, you head straight to your gate, which is nearly queue-less, and all the information that immigration, customs and flight officials need can be accessed by you simply putting your hand onto a screen or putting your eye to a camera.

Say goodbye to your passport, say goodbye to boarding passes.

This is what travellers can expect once the concept of Single Travel Token hits mainstream. Single Travel Token is the term given to the process whereby a match between your biometrics and your passport is created so you don’t have to flash your documents. In effect, your unique physiological features become your passport. 

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

In Orlando, Florida, biometrics are being rolled out, in full. Orlando International Airport will be the first US airport to fully deploy the US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Biometric Entry and Exit Program.

Boarding will now be much faster and easier with secure biometric exit checks. British Airways has already boarded flights of nearly 240 passengers in around 15 minutes thanks to the biometric technologies.

Passengers are simply required to look at the camera and they’re ready to go - no passports, no boarding passes. All international flights will be 100% biometric-boarding ready by October at the airport.

Lufthansa, testing a pilot biometric programme at Los Angeles Airport (LAX), has this ‘record’ beat by boarding 350 passengers in 20 minutes. With ever-increasing passenger volumes and airport infrastructure limitations, biometrics are becoming central to speeding up the airport process, while ensuring passenger safety and security.

Biometrics trial at LAX (Photo: Lufthansa)

SEE: How tech and travel are influencing the experience economy

South of the US border, in Mexico, three major airports are also rolling out biometric technologies. While the rollout of biometrics can, and is, used to increase efficiency and reduce waiting times - in Mexico the emphasis is placed on the potential for bolstering national security.

In Mexico City, Cancun and Los Cabos, arrivals will interact with automated border control kiosks, which will identify them by matching up their fingerprints with the corresponding fingerprints captured in the National Institute of Immigration’s (INM) database.

South Africa has not been ignorant of these changes either. Since 2015, the Department of Home Affairs has embarked on a modernisation programme that states as its ultimate aim “...to capture biometrics for all travellers upon arrival and departure from the Republic at all ports of entry.”

Called the enhanced Movement Control System (eMCS), the programme started out in Lanseria International Airport in 2015 and was extended to OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town International Airports. Since then, great strides have been made with the subsequent launch on 16 May of the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), which will be rolled out over the next five years.

SEE: Home Affairs launches new automated biometric ID system

Some of the ways these advances could be implemented in the very near future include complete self-service from check-in to luggage drop-off, boarding gate recognition, cabin entry recognition, in-flight entertainment personalisation and, hopefully, even onboard immigration control.  

In short, travellers can look forward to spending substantially less time in airports very soon. That increased efficiency and savings in time will free travellers up to spend more time doing things that they’d much rather be doing. So for now, keep on collecting stamps in your passport because soon you won’t have a passport at all - you’ll be your passport.

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