Written by Gillian Ormiston, Senior Consultant, Ormiston Consulting Services
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of contemporary life, including the travel industry. The majority of flights have been cancelled, airports are deserted, and long queues at security and immigration are just a distant memory.
Airports act as the shop window for many national economies so efficient and secure processes are therefore essential for both trade and tourism. Sooner rather than later, restrictions will begin to lift and travel will start to show the first green shoots of recovery. But that recovery will depend in part on the industry’s ability to respond to the legitimate concerns of travellers.
High on the list of traveller concerns will be: am I required to wait in proximity with other travellers, and am I required to use touch devices (such as kiosks, eGates, and boarding pass readers) immediately after other travellers? This is where industry and government agencies will explore remote and touchless solutions.
Seamlessness has long been the byword for passenger processing, whether this is at check-in, access to airside, border control or boarding. Digitization, automation and AI have recently been added to the mantra. However, for good reasons related to safety, airports, airlines, and government agencies take time to deploy new processes.
The need for social distancing has raised many new questions, including: what can be done now to separate queues of passengers, how and where will health checks take place, and what will happen to those passengers who do not pass a health check? There remain many open issues to be addressed by governments and industry bodies.
However, while these complex topics are considered, one fundamental issue can be addressed right now: the need to verify the identity of every passenger. Airlines need to know who is flying so that they can submit Advanced Passenger Information (API), and so they can be sure the person flying is the same person who dropped their bag and went through security.
Most of the current biometric solutions which can support seamlessness at the airport require multiple touchpoints and are based on reading a passport, an ID card or driving licence. So, the most urgent issue now for airports, airlines and government agencies is to put in place a system for remote, off-airport identity verification. With an identity already enrolled securely before travel, the passenger’s face can become their touchless and seamless boarding pass.
The technology to achieve this is already available and proven. It combines the power of smartphones (Android and iOS) to read a passport or ID chip via NFC (near-field communication) with the latest facial recognition technology to provide not just an instant facial match between selfie and passport, but also a genuine presence test to prevent spoofing.
Any authority using this technology can have confidence that a genuine document has been used and that it has not been lost or stolen. They can be sure that the traveller is a real, live person who is the rightful holder of the document. And all this can be achieved remotely, without the traveller needing to be seen in person.
This technology is already being used at scale in the real world. As part of the innovative EU Settlement Scheme, the UK Home Office has processed more than 3.5 million EU nationals living in the UK applying for settled status. The large majority chose the digital route and applied successfully, without assistance, in just a few minutes.
The same approach is being explored by Canada Border Services Agency as part of an innovative concept called Chain of Trust, in which biographic and biometric data captured early in the travel continuum is combined with dynamic risk assessment to determine the appropriate channel for each passenger at the border. The ultimate aim is to achieve zero wait time for eligible, low-risk travellers, via the use of biometric corridors.
Many post-pandemic travellers will demand touchless alternatives along these lines. Those organizations wrestling with strategies for pandemic recovery and reconsidering a travel process heavily dependent on the use of touch-screen kiosks, scanners or eGates should urgently consider the fully remote, digital ID verification process described above.
Instead of requiring travellers to stand in a queue with others and use a touch-screen kiosk and/or an eGate, why not allow them to enrol their information in advance of arrival at the airport, on their own smartphone, and grant access to all necessary touchpoints (check-in, bag drop, security, border control, and boarding) based on a touchless facial match?
The required technologies are already available. But prospective buyers should be careful to choose a reliable technology partner and a solution that is proven in the real world at high volumes and a high level of identity assurance. Key issues to consider include security, data privacy, and scalability.
Gillian Ormiston has deployed biometrics (face, fingerprint, iris) for automated Border Control, Entry/Exit and Airport systems for almost 20 years around the world and has been involved in many government and industry initiatives(e.g. OneID). Ormiston offers operational knowledge of Biometrics, Border Control and Traveller Facilitation Solutions to fill the gap for customers who would like to deploy new digital and biometric services for travellers but who do not know where to start and/or have limited resources to launch a major change management programme.