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What to expect when you return to air travel

What to expect when you return to air travel

By Neville Pattinson, Head of Business Development and Strategic Marketing at Thales

Around the world, most of us have not taken a flight since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, air travel volumes are slowly returning to normal, and people returning to airports are discovering that things are a little bit different, in some ways they expected, and others they did not.

Airports and airlines have been carrying out digital transformations at a dizzying pace, in many cases taking advantage of the pause afforded by the pandemic to adopt technologies like advance check-in from home, contactless bag drop and flight boarding with face biometrics, all of which are offered by Thales.

The changes are likely to continue as new capabilities are adopted and rolled out by airlines and airports.

Modernizing air travel

Many of the changes being implemented are based on the power of digital identity credentials paired with biometric capabilities that are able to streamline efficiency for travelers.

For airports, new biometric travel technologies are increasing safety as they help travelers reduce the number of shared surface touchpoints, such as the exchanging of ID documents, and speed up the processing of passengers, reducing crowd density in busy terminals. For airlines, biometric travel technologies can increase customer loyalty, and help restore passenger confidence by demonstrating innovation in security and touchless safety. For travellers, the changes mean less time spent in the airport, more convenience, and a more hygienic experience with less touchpoints.

Biometric travel technology enhancements are not only increasing passenger satisfaction but also create potential to reduce operational spending, increasing modern infrastructure, and driving new opportunities for revenue for airlines and airports.

Airlines find their answer

One of the most common associations travellers have with their pre-pandemic airport experiences is overcrowding. Airlines and airport operators were well aware of this problem, and in many cases had already begun testing technologies to shorten lineups and ease congestion for travellers.

Creating a smooth traveller journey is a complex undertaking, involving not only different technologies but several different stakeholder groups, including government agencies. Because of this, many airlines are choosing partners, like Thales, with extensive experience in multiple areas to manage their deployments of biometric credentials for contactless touchpoints at the airport, and automated border control gates with biometric capabilities. Deployments are more likely to reach operational targets quickly if they are carried out with the specialized expertise to work with airlines to identify and efficiently address their needs, coordinate with airports, and ensure that Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and other country specific regulatory authority requirements are met.

Airlines looking into rolling out biometric credentials to enable contactless processes are also carefully considering the implications of these systems on passenger privacy. Understanding three important points about biometric credentials provides them reassurance that their customer’s privacy will be protected.

First, the representation of a passenger’s biometric facial image is stored securely as a biometric template, not a raw photo. This means that the facial image provided by a passenger is interpreted by the credentialing system as a mathematical representation as facial map and no raw photographs or facial images are stored in the system. This ensures personal privacy as even if there is a data breach or other privacy risks as a person’s facial map is unique to the system and cannot be reverse engineered. Second, passengers retain control of their data each step of the way, with the option of authorizing data-sharing at each touchpoint in the airport journey. Finally, their facial image is only referenced when a traveler encounters one of the various touchless points of service such as boarding a flight. When this occurs the persons biometric template is searched against the expected gallery of travelers to match them against a confirmed manifest.

Your biometric credential

You may be able to create your biometric credential even before the day of travel by taking a selfie at home. This selfie generates the biometric reference and authentication of your required identity document to streamline your airport experience. The security of the government-issued physical ID document further contributes to the security and authenticity of the digital versions as the facial image taken by the selfie is matched to the physical ID to authenticate and verify an individual’s identity.

The parameters for when these biometric credentials can be established and used are set by airlines and regulators to meet the needs of passengers, but what is unique is that the passenger maintains control of their biometric credential through a mobile application. The digital credential itself is verified throughout automated systems in the airport, with staff on hand to help meet personal needs of travellers.

These biometric credentials are enabling the next phases of touchless and single token integration for travel and some international flights are currently using this technology for boarding.  Boarding for domestic flights, self check-in, which can also be performed prior to arrival at the airport, and baggage drop processes will be next. Fast, convenient and contactless lounge access, and even purchases at duty-free or other airport shops are also potential users of biometric credentials if linked to a payment card.

Despite the additional health protocols and rapidly returning flight volumes, the passenger experience is actually getting better.

Airports and airlines that have not yet started deploying biometric credentials that support a contactless experience will lag competition if not adopting these technologies as the next-generation of technologies that are impressing returning travellers now will soon be expected everywhere.

About the author

Neville Pattinson is the Head of Federal Government Sales at Thales Group’s DIS Identity & Biometric Solutions team based in Austin, TX. Pattinson is a leading expert and thought leader on digital identity solutions such as smart cards, electronic passports, various biometric technologies and mobile digital identity to keep identity credentials secure, private and trusted.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update. 

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