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Options and control: what people want when using digital ID for seamless travel


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Travel is probably the one thing we do that requires the most verifications of our identity. Then add in related services such as hotel bookings, car hire and now health passes and negative COVID-19 tests and it becomes an area which could benefit more than others if our disparate identities and accounts could be handled more smoothly. U.S. domestic air travel could be taking a big step towards a seamless future.

“A seamless travel experience is one which reduces circumstances that can lead to potential meltdowns,” says Christina McMillen, senior innovation implementation program manager, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, as part of a panel discussing ‘Travel Transformation: A New Era of Passenger Experience with Digital Identity’ for One World Identity.

Ultimately, seamless travel should be intuitive and personalized, according to McMillen. Her fellow panellists from backgrounds in hotels and payments agreed on the need to reduce friction and give a sense of safety.

“For an individual, I think sharing your biometrics and having it be seamless can be quite delightful, but I think people also want to understand that they are being kept safe when it comes to their data privacy,” says Sarah Clark, senior vice president, Digital Identity at Mastercard, as long as people feel safe with sharing their identity responsibly.

Fragmentation and inconsistencies in what our various digital identities can do and how they are verified are the barrier, as is simply too much technology: When we look at digital identity or digital solutions, especially in our space, there’s the notion of high-tech but also ‘high touch.’ And when you pay for a hotel, you pay for a service which is rendered by people and you want to see those faces, sometimes,” says Andy Todd, global director, Digital Customer Experience, IHG Hotels & Resorts.

The consensus is that customer control and options will be key for the adoption of digital ID and the biometric verification to make it possible. For the backend, it will all be about offering a good enough value proposition to incentivize take up.

“As a company that operates today at scale in 210 countries,” says Digital Identity at MasterCard’s Sarah Clark, “we feel like we can add a lot of value by weaving together those disparate systems as well as adding an overall governance and level of identity assurance … we would like to help build a network to assert that you have one digital ID and therefore you bring that with you wherever you may travel.”

For the airport experience, Dallas Fort Worth’s Christina McMillen explains how legacy systems were not designed for today’s demands, but that technology will allow much more sophisticated by airports themselves. Airport as a Service would bring far more convenience to passengers if airports installed technology such as beacons for navigation and if they knew who was in the building or on their way – data traditionally held by the airlines on their passengers.

“Ultimately it takes the burden away from customers having to know where to be, how to get there, what to bring, what not to bring,” says McMillen, “and adapt to all those changes at a moment’s notice.”

Looking farther ahead, linking digital IDs could bring a whole new level of experience for travel according to McMillen. Digital IDs linked by consent could mean people going to the airport to meet elderly parents arriving could receive push notifications of where they are in their journey through security and baggage reclaim; parents could be updated on the progress of a child making on their journey as an unaccompanied minor and be informed of all the people the child has interacted with along the chain of custody.

While McMillen identified Indian airports as being in the vanguard with handling passengers via digital ID as a result of the national Aadhaar ID scheme, there are developments on the way for air travel in the U.S.

While Dallas Fort Worth already has biometric entry and exit for international flights, McMillen adds that they are “hoping to provide a digital solution – a DI [digital identity] -enabled solution – for domestic travelers in the very near future… that’s a little challenging as there’s no national database.”

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