Facial recognition to expedite the airport experience

The Rise of the Machines

You might not have even realized it, but biometrics have become a part of our daily lives –unlocking your wireless device with your fingerprint, using voice commands to search for information on your wireless device, scanning your iris at the airport to quickly and easily enter a country –these are just a few examples of the biometrics you frequently encounter. So, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that facial recognition software is starting to make an appearance in airports around the world.

Over the course of the last few months, a number of airlines have been testing the use of facial recognition software to capture travellers facial features in an effort to modernize and simplify the clearance process. The self-service kiosks allow travellers to scan their facial features against their passports as well as scans their boarding pass. Then, once travellers reach the gate, a simple facial scan verifies their identity and allows them to board the plane, without ever having to show any documents.

Building on an Already Implemented System

Many countries already use biometrics in their airports to confirm travellers’ identities –for example, American immigration officers use fingerprints to verify their travellers, while some other countries use less intrusive technology, such as facial recognition and iris scans to do so. With these programs already in place, it seems like a natural progression to use biometrics in the hopes of shortening lines and wait-time, increasing security, and overall improving the traveller experience.

“When you look at the air travel experience, there are different places you have to wait in line,” said Joey Pritikin, Vice-President for Sales and Marketing at Tascent, a company that helps install biometric technology. “So it’s about, how do we make it so someone can go from curb to gate without waiting in line, so that people are instead shopping and dining. Whatever it is that they are doing, we want them doing anything but waiting.”

Canada has even taken steps towards implementation. The Ottawa International Airport began recently testing the software, and has even taken it a step further by introducing an app to help speed things up. This app can be used in airplane mode and allows travellers to fill out any declaration information before even landing, which aims to help speed up the clearance process.

Are we Sacrificing Human Interaction?

However, while some people have been applauding the use of this technology in airports, others have their concerns. Canadian Customs and Immigration Union President Jean-Pierre Fortin recently voiced his worry, wondering why the government would remove humans from the process and pointed out that his customs officers undergo 18 weeks of rigorous training. “They’re looking for tons of things,” he said, “your attitude in general, are you nervous…it’s a bunch of factors that machines will never be able to detect.”

Fortin went on further to say that, “they [customs officers] develop these skills to make sure that they’re stopping the people that they think there’s something wrong with.” Fortin brings up a valid point: while airport facial recognition will be able to verify an individual’s identity, will it ever be able to gauge if they’re hiding something that could potentially be illegal or harmful?

The kiosks are expected to lower the number of traveller interviews with customs officers, and instead “allow them to focus their attention on the passengers that need greater attention while allowing legitimate travellers easier access through the customs process,” said Chris Phelan, Vice-President of Security and Industry Affairs for the Canadian Airports Council.

So, what does this mean for travellers and, more specifically, for business travellers? This means the possibility of less time spent at the airport and more time focusing instead on the reason for your travel: work. It also means a more pleasant airport experience, which equals less stress, less worry and less distractions.


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