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SAFETY & SECURITY Last modified on December 1, 2016

Face time

Biometrics is enabling a new era in travel identity management, writes SITA’s vice president for airport solutions, Matthys Serfontein.

The emergence of single token travel over the next few years is one of the most exciting developments for travel. 

A true walkthrough experience, from check-in to the aircraft door, has been an ambition of the best airports around the world for some time. Today, this is possible using secure biometrics to create a single travel token. 

This is complex technology delivering a remarkably simple solution. It allows a passenger’s biometric details to be captured through a facial scan at the first touchpoint in their journey. 

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

Travellers can then use this single digital token as identification 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 to verify their identification without having to provide their passport or boarding card.

It will also provide the ability to combine some travel steps into a single interaction, speeding up the time needed to complete these formalities. Fast-tracking passengers through the airport checkpoints will benefit passengers and airports alike. 

It’s not difficult to see why passengers, airports and airlines would embrace this technology so enthusiastically. It will improve security oversight and elevate the passenger’s travel experience while speeding up passenger processing and reducing the resources needed to manage the travel journey.

When the passenger goes to board their connecting flight, the biometric information can be cross-referenced with government systems, providing a clear and accurate entry and exit record. 

A mobile system could also capture biometric details from e-passports using a hand-held smart device, allowing checks to be conducted anywhere in the airport by roving immigration agents.  

This will particularly help with travellers connecting to another flight, while the use of a single token would dramatically improve security oversight by providing a verified exit check for transfer passengers.

Single token travel in action

Numerous products using single biometric tokens are being trialled and tested around the globe. These include SITA Smart Path, which has already been trialled at a major airport hub in the Middle East with further proofs-of-concept planned for other major international airports.

A key advantage of the new technology is the ability to use and integrate it with existing airport infrastructure – including industry standard common-use self-service equipment, such as check-in kiosks, bag drop units, gates for secure access, boarding and automated border control. 

This makes rapid deployment easy and cost-effective. Smart Path also integrates with government systems and databases, allowing integrated immigration and border checks. 

What’s next?

This is just the start for this nascent technology. Looking to the future, the technology could become more convenient and nuanced.

The ultimate goal is to have the single identity token permanently and securely stored on your mobile phone so you simply swipe your device at each step of the way at any airport in the world. 

Using blockchain technology – the technology behind bitcoin – SITA’s innovative research imagines passengers creating a verifiable ‘token’ on their mobile phone, which contains biometric and other personal data. 

In this vision of future travel, no matter where in the world you go, any authority can simply scan your face and scan your device to verify you are authorised to travel.

Blockchain technology means this can be done without any agencies ever controlling or storing your biometric details or personal information, removing the major concerns associated with the provision and storage of such sensitive data. 

A full walkthrough airport experience is possible today, but it’s only the beginning for single token travel across all borders and airports. This story has only just begun.

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