Technology

Beyond passport-free travel: SITA President reveals predictions for the future of airports

SITA’s APAC President has said passport-free travel will be a reality in the very near future, but there is still one obstacle in its way.

Speaking with Travel Weekly during a recent visit to Australia, Sumesh Patel (pictured right) said today’s generation like to be in control of their journey.

“They generally prefer a walk through experience rather than dealing with too many touch points so they can have more time for themselves and be in control of their journey,” he said.

According to Patel, that’s why there has been very little objection to new kinds of airport tech like biometrics or storing data to create a more personalised journey. 

In the case of biometrics, the travel tech company has seen a very good response from a trial currently underway at Brisbane airport where Qantas passengers have the option to upload their passports to their mobile phone to create a more seamless journey.

“All this biometric data, the boarding pass and passport details are basically stored on the phone, and that becomes your passport or boarding pass all the way through the check-in process,” Patel said.

“The good thing about Smart Path is we don’t hold the data. We just create a soft token and that soft token is basically validating the data.

“All we do is validate the data between the two entities [airports and passengers]”

Patel told us that trials such as this are bringing us a step closer to passport-free travel becoming a reality.

“A huge percentage of airports are already looking at this technology, so its a matter of time before it becomes widespread,” he said.

“At many airports in the US its already a thing, it’s no longer in trial but in production.

“The only challenge we see is in terms of collaboration. All the stakeholders, the airline, airport and government need to work together to make it real.

“Because if you have biometric touch points at one end of your journey but not the other, it’s not a seamless journey.”

One example of a passport-free airport is Orlando International in the US, which has implemented a 100 per cent biometric exit using SITA’s Smart Path biometric technology at the airports 30 international boarding gates.

The airport chose to implement the tech after a trial with British Airways that allowed them to board a flight of 240 people in around 15 minutes.

And Patel said airports now want to go a step further.

“Once they have provided the seamless passenger journey, they want to move to the next stage where they can use artificial intelligence and data to provide more personalised services,” he said.

“For example, at Miami airport they are looking to provide a more personal service to the customer with chatbots and providing data to cater for customers personal preferences in terms of shopping, restaurants or whatever else they can personalise.”

Miami International Airport’s mobile app uses SITA’s Day of Travel Airport App giving travellers personalised updates, direction and tips based on their location and needs using AI.

The airport of the future will look at artificial intelligence, predictive services, even robotics,” Patel said.

“In the next few years, 84 per cent of airlines and 61 per cent of airports are planning to use major programs that rely on artificial intelligence.

“These emerging technologies clearly have the potential to define the future of our travel experience,” he concluded. 

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