Where will travelers find biometric systems next? As the technology continues to evolve and expand new airport implementations are coming online around the globe. Here are a trio of recent activations that span the range of services and values to passengers.
Biometric Boarding in Dubai
Using biometrics to board a plane is hardly new. But for Dubai’s Emirates Airlines the new setup at its hub are something special. The carrier is the first airline to be approved by the US Department of Homeland Security to process boarding for US-bound flights via biometrics. Following a pilot program run in July and August for flights to New York City and Los Angeles the carrier now offers the facial recognition option for passengers as they board flights to any of the carrier’s 12 US destinations.
The photos taken at the gate are compared with a Customs & Border Protection database assembled from prior visits, visa issuance or other sources. The carrier notes “the system may not work for those who haven’t travelled to the U.S. for a long time or whose images are not in CBP’s gallery.” This milestone is significant in that it represents that data comparison happening at a location outside the control of CBP.
Lisbon’s Border Experiment
Travelers departing the Schengen zone at Lisbon Airport will have the opportunity to cross the border with a wave of their hand. Portuguese border authorities, in cooperation with the European Border and Coast Guard Frontex, is trialing a system to speed passage through the checkpoint. The system combines facial recognition and a touchless fingerprint scanner to validate traveler identity. A wave of the hand past the scanner can get passengers through, without requiring interaction with a border officer.
China’s newest airport
Facial recognition is already widely deployed in China. Extending it to the airports does not come as much of a surprise. At the country’s newest airport, Daxing International on the south side of Beijing, airlines are experimenting with the technology in hopes of delivering improved customer service to passengers. Check-in kiosks can process passengers via their faces as can the security checkpoints. But those are experiences that are easily split between having a human interaction or not. When it comes to higher-touch experiences and premium passengers the impact of facial recognition integration is more pronounced. And at least one airline is about to find out just how well passengers accept it.
Agents for China Eastern wearing camera-equipped glasses can now quickly recognize travelers and pull up their travel details while talking to the passenger. The details include the next segment booked and other factors that can help determine lounge admissibility and other considerations.
China Eastern is not the first airline to try this approach with passengers. Virgin Atlantic ran a trial with the Google Glass product five years ago. It did not end well in terms of passenger experience. The carrier claimed the trial a great success – and it was better than the smart watch trial that preceded it – but the carrier also did not pursue the program further. Among the challenges, how to present the correct data to an agent in the small display on the glasses. Each passenger interaction will necessarily be different. Knowing that a traveler requested a special meal may prove less important when they’re asking about changing to an earlier flight, for example.
And, while travelers have shown some willingness to engage with the biometric scanner systems when it replaces a human interaction it remains unclear how well it will be tolerated as an augmentation to the service experience.