Face-scans to AI: everything you need to know about biometric tech

Facial Recognition System concept.

It’s official: biometric technology is the biggest thing in air travel right now.

Bigger than an actual aeroplane, if you ask us. In a manner of speaking.

And it’s growing rapidly: a recent study from SITA reveals 63 per cent of airports and 43 per cent of airlines plan to invest in biometric ID management solutions in the next three years.

As with any type of new technology, it’s important to examine the impact and benefits of biometrics before we get some kind of I, Robot situation on our hands.


Not that you can really compare facial and fingerprint scanning tech to a robot apocalypse, but you get what we mean.

See also: This airline just casually introduced fingerprinting

We had a chat with SITA’s Asia Pacific President, Sumesh Patel, to find out more about the technology, and whats next in airport tech.

According to Patel, biometric technology allows a passenger’s biometric details to be captured through a facial scan at the first touch point in the journey, such as a check-in kiosk.

The biometric record is checked against the passenger’s travel documents and a secure single token is created.

Then, at every additional step in the journey – whether it’s during self-bag-drop, at border control or aircraft boarding – passengers simply complete a facial scan without having to present their passport or boarding card.

“The ability to integrate seamlessly at so many touch points would make at least 70% of the journey less stressful for passengers,” Patel told us.

According to the 2017 SITA Passenger IT Trends Survey, passenger satisfaction is actually higher when self-service technology is in use.

“Passengers rated their satisfaction at every step of the journey,” Patel said.

“The results paint a picture of ‘tech’ users who are more satisfied with the experience than those using face-to-face services.”

“The good news for airlines, airports and the various government agencies involved in passenger identity management, is that passengers are happy to use biometrics.”

“This technology is becoming increasingly commonplace in people’s lives.”

“For example, by 2020 more than 75% of smartphones will have fingerprint sensors.”

“This user acceptance can be seen among passengers too. SITA reports that the majority of passengers would definitely use biometrics on their next flight.”

SITA is also working with artificial intelligence (AI) to help make the air travel experience more seamless for both airports and passengers.

“Airlines and airports are looking to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help minimize the impact of disruption on the passenger experience and their business.”

“Using cognitive computing, predictive analytics and other progressive technical capabilities, airlines and airports can predict and, therefore, mitigate the impact of any disruptions.”

According to Patel, airlines are also investigating AI-driven chatbots, to give passengers access to more information in a very simple way.

Chatbots already exist but AI will take them to a new level, pre-empting passengers’ questions.

“Flight Information Displays (FIDs) will be able to recognize the passenger, based on their biometric data, and provide the exact information you need at that exact moment, for example, your gate number and how long it will take to walk there,” Patel said.

Sounds like something from the Jetsons to us.


“We already use AI technology every day: when the maps notification comes up on the screen on your phone, telling you how long it will take to drive to the concert, it’s using artificial intelligence,” Patel told us.

“As it becomes more sophisticated and more prevalent, there is no doubt it will really help improve the airline passenger experience.”

Patel said blockchain technology, is also on the agenda for many international airports.

“SITA has worked with British Airways, Heathrow, Geneva Airport and Miami International Airport to investigate how blockchain technology can make the air transport industry more efficient and secure.”

“While we’re several years away from blockchain/distributed ledger technology becoming a mainstream enterprise technology, it’s becoming very clear that it will have an opportunity to make a significant difference to data sharing.”

“And the more data is shared across the industry, the better the decision-making and therefore the better the passenger experience.”

Do you have something to say on this? Get in touch with Travel Weekly Editor Ali Coulton here to share your thoughts.

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