Is there anything more dreaded than the security line at an airport? New biometric technology being installed at airports around the world eliminates the need to even pull out your passport.

By Stephen Corby


Posted on January 17, 2019

Anyone who flies regularly for business will tell you that it would be vastly more enjoyable if we could just do away with airports (which is why private jets are so great).

It sometimes seems as if you spend more time queuing – at check-in, at security, at the gate – than you do flying, but things could finally be about to improve with new technology that would allow you to move through an airport without even taking your passport out of your bag.

The airline industry knows how frustrating the experience is, and that queues are only going to get worse (a staggering 4.4 billion people took to the skies in 2018, more than the entire population of the world in 1980), so it is working on streamlining the whole process through the use of biometric technologies, including facial recognition.

If you’ve used the SmartGates at Australia’s international airports you’ll know what a time-saver they can be (although you still have to queue) compared to human customs officers, but moves are afoot to roll this technology out further.

British Airways is already using facial recognition, rather than boarding-pass checks, to board passengers on its domestic flights within the UK, and on some of its international flights to the US. And if it can do it on those ones, which are subject to perhaps more stringent security than any other routes, you can bet it will soon be doing it everywhere.

Travellers grinding their way through the joy that is Heathrow Airport are photographed as they go through the initial security check, and then a second photo is taken at the gate. Obviously, if the two match, and you’re at the correct gate, it automatically opens. Simple, yet brilliant.

Flights to the US take the system a step further, however, combining your check-in information with biometric data, including your fingerprints and photos, and data from your visa.

So how much quicker is it, doing away with airline staff checking boarding passes against passports at the gate? Well, Raoul Cooper, the digital airport design manager for BA, says it can halve the time it takes to board 240 people onto a flight to the US.

“One day, a traditional passport scan or swipe may no longer be needed,” Mr Cooper told the BBC . “We believe that this starts to prove how we can use identity services more widely and is an important part of our ambition to create a seamless journey.”

As you would expect, the vast and busy Dubai International Airport is also on the case, with a particularly weird yet wonderful high-tech plan to use biometric technology to replace traditional security desks altogether.

If the plan to equip all of its terminals with the system by the end of 2020 comes off, travellers will be ushered through aquarium-like tunnels fitted with face-scanning cameras designed to look like fish. As you walk through the cameras will shoot you from various angles and the pictures will be compared with your stored data so that you are checked in by the time you enter the airport proper.

Delta Airlines has launched the first biometric terminal in the US at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport that goes one step further. The system will use facial recognition at check-in, security, boarding and customs, creating a seemingly seamless experience that would do away with the need for passport checks of any kind for some lucky travellers.

Singapore’s excellent and modern Changi Airport is also using facial recognition, and is trialling a system that could improve one of the most frustrating time-killers when flying – finding people who have checked-in yet somehow forgotten to get on the plane. The clever tech could spot those people’s faces as they wander uselessly around the airport, and help staff to find them and usher them on to the plane.

What a wonderful world that would be.