Comment: Is biometric technology the next frontier for business travel?

Ali Hussain, chief innovation and technology officer at the ATPI Group, discussed how biometrics could shape the business trip of the future

When it comes to travel technology trends, biometrics is fast becoming the industry standard. The concept – verifying an individual’s identity with their unique biological characteristics – has become a big talking point, with aviation making significant investments into this area.

Although biometrics still has a way to go before it is implemented across the travel industry, most people are familiar with it. Ever unlocked your phone with a fingerprint or picture of your face? That’s biometrics in action.

Certainly for business travellers, waiting around in long queues is a familiar gripe so it is no surprise that airport operators, governments, airlines and TMCs are all looking to find a simple answer to the lines that inevitably form as a result of security checks. Encouragingly, biometrics is now more technologically prevalent and acceptable than ever – which is good news for the 64 per cent of business travellers who said they want to see more of it in a recent IATA study.

Today, almost all travellers own ‘chipped’ passports that contain their photo in digital form. The border security of many countries now have built-in systems for pre-registration, allowing most incoming passengers to utilise biometric scanners for entry and exit clearance.

Recent incarnations include a three-month trial at Gatwick with Easyjet (which began May 2018) that matches data collected at self-service check-in desks to automated boarding gates. The system syncs face, passport and boarding card details to allow entrance to the gate. The aim of the trial is to see how intuitive it is, if it reduces queuing and how passengers react. Ultimately, of course, the aim is to speed boarding and ensure more aircraft depart on time.

Similarly, British Airways has introduced facial recognition at Orlando Airport; Air Asia has it at Senai International in Malaysia; Lufthansa has it in Los Angeles; and Delta allows access to its 50 Sky Club lounges in the US with fingerprint scanning.

Future biometric projects include IATA’s One ID solution. This plan promises to use one piece of biometric data to simplify the journey through the airport. The biometric identity token, secured using blockchain technology, would be used for the booking of flights, security checks, border control and collection of luggage. Since this identity is completely unique and transportable, it could even be used to pay for duty-free items or food at the airport.

All this investment comes at a cost, and Japan recently announced that in January 2019 it will enforce a new tax on travellers leaving the country, known as the ‘Sayonara Tax.’ Funds collected will go towards infrastructure improvements, including the introduction of biometric technology at the country’s airports.

Biometric technology has potential outside of the airport too.

A report by the Rail Delivery Group, which represents 23 rail operating companies, in 2017 suggests facial recognition was a more likely route. It would match ticket details to facial scans and alert staff to passengers who have boarded without paying, doing away with the need for physical tickets.

It seems whatever your DNA, it will inevitably form part of a business traveller’s experience but to what extent remains to be seen….

At ATPI we’re researching and planning for how biometrics gateways can be extended to be part of the booking journey, not just the traveller experience. We’re all used to accessing phones via a fingerprint, and so the integration of biometrics into anything related to personal data is far closer than you think. Enhancing the ease of business travel is truly at our fingertips.

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