Touchless travel is top of mind for passengers today. Most developments on that front are for limited scenarios, such as just bag drop or just flight boarding gates. SITA and NEC want to change that through a new partnership launched today. The pair will integrate NEC’s I:Delight identity management platform with SITA Smart Path and SITA Flex to enable a secure walk-through travel experience from curb to aircraft.
In NEC we have another strong partner where together we are able to deliver to our airline and airport customers a more seamless, automated journey through the airport. We know that passengers value the benefit of a truly self-service experience. – Barbara Dalibard, CEO of SITA
NEC will provide its facial recognition tools to the partnership, allowing travelers that opt in to pass through various stages of the airport experience without paperwork. The identity is managed on a passenger’s mobile device to ensure control. The partnership envisions a scenario whereby passengers use their biometric identity to check-in, make payments, drop their bag, as well as pass through security, immigration and boarding. Simply scanning their face at each step allows for verification and access.
SITA’s Common Use Platforms deliver the other half of the technology necessary for the services. The hardware is installed at more than 460 airports around the globe and can be extended to leverage the biometrics technology rather than passport scans or boarding pass barcodes for passenger identification. As Barbara Dalibard, CEO of SITA, notes, “We are well placed to help our customers deliver a truly unique and efficient experience in the airport, particularly during these challenging times where there is increased focus on the health and safety of passengers.”
An increased biometric challenge: Masks
Masakazu Yamashina, Executive Vice President, NEC, highlights the company’s technology platforms and expertise, anticipating that “NEC I:Delight, which utilizes NEC’s cutting-edge digital identity solutions, can capitalize on biometrics technologies to deliver a unified customer experience across a wide range of services.” But the biometrics requirements of today are very different from those of six months ago.
The proliferation of mask usage has the potential to confound the facial recognition systems. APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader suggested in a recent conversation that “a pivot in biometrics” is on the horizon, “focused on how, while wearing masks, you still get the biometric accuracy that airlines and our security agencies desire.” Expect this problem to continue for the foreseeable future, necessitating adjustments from the technology providers.
How voluntary is it?
While the companies emphasize that the process is opt-in for passengers concerns remain about some facets of privacy for travelers. The number of cameras required to effectively implement these solutions dictate that even travelers that opt-out of participation are being captured and tracked throughout the airport experience. The only difference is that their other personal data is not attached to the facial recognition system. But the platform can still follow them through the airport or even across multiple trips, if desired.
How the data transitions to other parties is also a concern. While the core security functions should limit details shared to government authorities the potential for commercial value to be extracted could prove compelling to airports as they need to fund this, and other, modernization efforts. If the system knows a passenger spent extra time in the vodka section of duty free but not in the check-out line why not send a push notification with a coupon shortly before departure time, hopefully closing the sale?
A comprehensive solution
Biometrics for boarding is not new. Multiple airlines and airports around the globe (e.g. AA @ DFW, DL @ ATL, B6 @ JFK, etc) have cooperated to deliver solutions that seem to work well enough for passengers. Similar efforts have proven successful for immigration in limited circumstances, including The UAE and Singapore. But getting to a truly touchless experience from curb to seated on board remains a challenge.
Partnerships like this one aim to ease these barriers but implementation and integration timelines remain relatively long. If NEC and SITA can accelerate the process we may see some progress. But that remains very much an uncertain future. Ditto the ability of airports to afford these investments, especially if they’re not selling the data onwards.
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