Facial recognition technology is rapidly being brought into use as a result of the need for zero contact through airports and stations

24 July, 2020

The days of handing over your passport before checking in for a flight, before boarding and at border controls are almost certainly numbered. As will printing out a boarding card on a piece of paper which has to be scanned a number of times before you finally board the plane. With the requirement for social distancing and a totally contactless travel experience, the roll out of new biometric technological systems is gathering momentum with years of research now being fast tracked into just a few months.

Many of us will have already experienced the use of biometrics during our travels not to mention many phones now unlock by use of fingerprints or facial and voice recognition. Biometric technology is already in many airports with many more having been testing or inaugurating new systems over the past year.

However, even touchscreen technology is now being shunned in favour of facial recognition to ensure that passengers will not need to touch anything as they travel through the airport. This is pushing the development of iris scanning and facial recognition. Many airlines, such as Emirates Airline and British Airways, already have systems in place having run test programmes before the pandemic.


As an example, Delta Air Lines has already implemented facial recognition to board passengers. The system simply takes a photograph to match against the passport with facial recognition simply replacing the manual check as customers board the plane. According to their research less than 2% opted out of the process and it saves around nine minutes when boarding a widebody aircraft, which in itself is a step in the right direction. The system has also been trialled by United Airlines and JetBlue.

Iberia has launched a facial recognition pilot project at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport's Terminal 4 in partnership with the Spanish airport operator Aena. The project aims to enable customers to identify themselves at both general and fast-track security control and at the boarding gates with their biometric profile, eliminating the need to show travel documents. Biometric testing is also under way at airports in other countries like Canada, Iceland, Italy, Japan and Singapore too.


The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has outlined a systematic approach to using biometrics for verified identification throughout all traveller journeys without manual verifications in a new report on the safe travel in the "new normal" context. The initiative is part of WTTC's Safe and Seamless Traveller Journey (SSTJ) which aims to enable a seamless, safe and secure end-to-end traveller experience including flights and non-air travel.

It's not just in the air, Eurostar is also testing its new facial recognition technology which means passengers will be able to travel between the UK and Europe without a passport. The system is set to be rolled out by Mar-2021.


The new system, to be installed by iProov, will require passengers to download the Eurostar app where they can choose an accelerated pre-boarding option. That will involve uploading scans of their identification documentation and then using iProov's facial biometric check.

The UK Home Office and Border Force are also developing special corridors to replace e-gates and passport queues. Passengers will walk through the corridor which will use a combination of facial recognition technology and your mobile phone to speed up the immigration process.

There will be some that believe this is too much like Big Brother and will shun the new technology, but the need to travel in safe and contactless environment will almost certainly mean all airports will be adopting the technology soon.