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An easier travel path from home to hotel room with digital credentials and facial biometric match

An easier travel path from home to hotel room with digital credentials and facial biometric match

Digital travel credentials are here. The launch of American Airlines’ Mobile ID – which combines Thales technology with the Airside App – introduces complete traveler journeys without presenting any physical documents to airports across the U.S. Your ID stays in your bag.

This new simplified form of air travel is now being extended to allow travelers access to more places and to quickly navigate more time-consuming procedures in additional airports across the U.S., with similar systems rolling out around the world, Thales Head of Business Development and Strategic Marketing Neville Pattinson tells Biometric Update.

These revolutionary changes are enabling air travelers to enrol for their digital credentials at home, before they leave for the airport. Travelers can begin planning their journey, consenting to share their face biometric not just with the airline for faster, paperless flight boarding, but also entry into clubs and other airport processes.

Stakeholder collaboration with the U.S. government’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to further improve the process is ongoing. In the meantime, U.S. travelers planning a flight can now use digital credentials and biometrics to get through the frustrating parts of air travel dramatically faster.

Major advances behind the scenes

The changes already made allow passengers to use only their phone and their face biometric to enter Admirals clubs and pass through TSA. All other airport processes, from check-in as well as bag-drop through boarding, will soon be completed even without the travelers’ phone. A face biometric check, previously consented to by the traveler, is all that is necessary at each point of interaction.

AA’s passenger-held digital credential is available to U.S. residents flying on American, who are American Advantage members. The traveler downloads Airside’s digital identity app and uses Thales’ technology to create the digital credential, which is then consented to be shared at specific airports for the day of travel.

This process creates an American Airlines’ persistent digital credential maintained on the traveler’s phone. The extra security checks necessary at TSA checkpoints require an ISO 18013-5 digital credential to be presented, through a quick process in the same app.

“Under the control of the traveler we use their persistent American Airlines enrolled credential, and it is converted in the phone to the form that will now be accepted as a standard digital credential on the TSA CAT-2B devices or on the bag drop station,” Pattinson explains.

Impact at airports and beyond

In addition to the time savings by checking in for your flight before you leave home, individual checks are completed almost instantly, compared to five or six seconds each for processes that involve scanning a passport or Driving License.

Multiplied by hundreds of people in each line, and in combination with related time-savings, Pattinson predicts that in some cases travelers will save hours on their journey through the airport.

This is also creating an opportunity for the TSA to consider adding new dedicated lines for digital ID-holders.

“They’re looking now at having dedicated lines for digital credentials, because the digital credential can facilitate people through the TSA identity verification quicker. Which is exciting because instead of waiting in-line at TSA, as an early adopter, you may potentially be able to take advantage of shorter lines.”

In the longer run, Pattinson sees even the phone being unnecessary at TSA checks, with their digital credential being consented in advance to be used at every point in the touchless journey.

Stats on the similar boarding process used for CBP’s Biometric Exit program has shown reductions of 40 percent or more in how long it takes to board aircraft, and Pattinson says Thales pioneering U.S. Exit devices at LAX were consistently able to board over 300 passengers faster than traditional boarding pass scan processes.

The time savings can also help airlines and airports turn the gates over more quickly, allowing more flights in a day or reducing the staff hours needed.

Addresses needs of consumers and businesses

The time savings is only one part of the increased convenience that digital credentials and biometrics are delivering for passengers. Pattinson admits that he is often happiest going through the airport when he does not have to interact with agents with everything already predetermined in his airline app; no doubt a common sentiment.

The same digital credential can also potentially be used for other transactions, such as car rentals and hotel check-ins. Payments can also be processed in the same way, at a Duty-Free Shop or any other retailer. Eventually, the same digital ID could even be used in non-travel applications, like opening a bank account on-line.

“The more you can do on the mobile, the more you can do in advance, then you can just walk through the automated systems using biometrics,” Pattinson says. “You don’t have to remember to bring your driver’s license, necessarily, you don’t have to have a paper or digital boarding pass. These are the things that are going to change the way we travel in more of this digital environment.”

This also meets a pair of critical and related needs for airports and airlines. Speeding people through the parts of the airport journey that are the least pleasant can improve how flyers feel about an airport or airline, giving them a competitive edge over those reluctant to adopt the technology.

It also allows the existing infrastructure to be used to serve a greater number of passengers. Meeting that capacity is a current concern expected to get significantly worse by 2025, based on the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) air traffic estimates. The example of switching a gate from one flight to another more quickly above is just one area where that capacity crunch can be eased with digital credentials and biometrics, Pattinson says.

The rollout stage

The technologies and partnerships that enable this faster, easier airport journey have been in development for several years. Digital ID for air travelers is finally ready to deliver on the promise that was seen as potential before the pandemic. As volumes have returned to normal, the need for them has become greater than ever.

The Thales powered Airside mobile app for American Airlines travelers is now ready. The ISO/IEC 18013—5 standard, which allows the digital credential to be used in even the highest-security airport checks, was published last year. Thales has developed the biometrics and digital credential creation technologies to enroll travelers and convert their credentials to meet the standard and use during their travel experience.

The touchless, paperless airport journey is now a reality. And the digital fast lane is still being built out, from your own front door to a hotel room in another city and the back home again

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