Travel suppliers need an element of caution in deploying an expanding use of biometrics

29 January, 2020

The use of biometrics continues to grow, and in the future, it will certainly extend deeper into a traveller’s overall experience. But travel suppliers need to proceed with caution as they determine how biometrics will evolve in their respective businesses.

Biometrics has gained traction amongst airlines for checking in at airports. US major carrier Delta Air Lines has a dedicated biometric terminal at its largest hub – Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International airport. Travellers departing from Terminal F do not need tickets or phones for check-in, bag check or security.

In a recent report published by Phocuswright, titled ‘Travel Evolutions in Voice Recognition and Biometrics’, the company concluded that “If you leave the United States on a commercial flight, chances are you may have already had your faced scanned.”

Curators of the research noted that reported figures have increased from two million passengers scanned in Apr-2019 to 25 million in Aug-2019. The report also highlighted that China already relies on facial recognition technology to enable everything from security to commerce transactions.

“Airlines and airports aren’t the only beneficiaries of biometrics in travel,” according to the report. “Other predictions of the use of biometrics include automated hotel guest check-in and loyalty programme guest experience enhancements, access to and use of rental cars, and even autonomous luggage that follows its owner around.”

But, the Phocuswright report warns that as biometric technology rolls out, businesses need to be mindful of legal constraints and consumer sentiment and concerns. For example, the research pointed to a case in early 2019 where plaintiffs won a lawsuit against Six Flags Entertainment Corporation for violating the 2008 Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Phocuswright stated that the amusement park was accused of collecting fingerprint data upon the purchase of a season pass by a teenager without providing the child or his parents in writing "why the thumbprint had been collected or how long it would be stored.”

Whether it's in the airport or at a hotel, biometrics is influencing travel more than ever. We are seeing more and more businesses highlighting their plans to deploy biometrics. Just this month Philadelphia International Airport became the latest implementing a 45-day pilot of biometric screening technologies at three international gates to help US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) process departing passengers.

The technology functions by verifying the identity of a passenger by cross-checking facial scans with photos already on file with the federal government and uses biometric systems by veriScan, NEC and SITA. It is being deployed at gates A15, A16 and A17 for select outbound international flights on American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways.

Biometric solutions have already begun revolutionising the airport experience for all stakeholders involved – travellers, airlines, airport operations, vendors, government, and law enforcement. But, the Phocuswright research quite rightly highlights that we still need to take a cautious approach to its adoption to overcome potential obstacles to its deployment.