This illustration clearly shows the challenges that airports face. There are numerous passenger touchpoints and each one is an opportunity for passengers and staff to come in contact with each other and COVID-19. The good news is that leading-edge technology is available now, and other technology is under development, that will help passengers move safely and confidently through each touchpoint.
It’s all about reducing contact between passengers and airport personnel and eliminating the physical act of touching surfaces where the virus could be viable. One technology stands apart as a great enabler – biometrics.
Biometrics – enabling the touchless travel experience
Biometrics is not a new technology. It’s already in use at airports around the world, primarily for immigration and border control. But when leading-edge biometric technology overlays each airport touchpoint so that a passenger’s face becomes that passenger’s identification – instead of a driver’s license, passport or boarding pass – all airport touchpoints become part of a single end-to-end biometric journey that is touchless, seamless and faster.
And that is new. It could be a game-changer in the war on COVID-19 and enabling passenger safety and confidence.
The ideal airport encompasses a fully connected journey made possible through a cloud environment with ironclad security and robust identity management. This, in turn, decreases the length of lines and the time passengers spend in lines.
In one recent test of biometric technology used for boarding, the time it took for an international traveller to walk up to an automated boarding gate, allow it to capture their biometrics, send the biometrics to a matching database at the CBP Traveler Verification Service, confirm the match, and send that notification back to the airline departure control system that allowed the gate to open and register the passenger as boarding, was, astonishingly, four seconds.
In other recent tests of people wearing face masks, the 120-point biometric facial scans routinely picked up passenger identity from just the passenger’s face showing above the mask.
Currently, Collins Aerospace has leading-edge biometric technology working at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas and for JetBlue at JFK Airport in New York. Biometric trials are being conducted with easyJet between Bristol, England, and Dublin, Ireland.
Addition of health measurements to biometrics shows promise
With the advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic, airports are also looking for more effective ways to screen for potentially sick travellers.
One way is to add health measurements, such as temperature scanning or thermal imaging, to an airport’s biometrics overlay.
Not every airport touchpoint will require this more robust health measurement technology, but one could see the advantage of having it at Arrivals, before any significant interaction with other passengers, and, again, at security screening, before passengers mix on concourses and before they board their aircraft.
Collins is currently testing thermal imaging and temperature scanning Beta technology in its labs.
Data privacy issues must be thoughtfully considered and answered
One point to emphasise clearly and unambiguously is the need for thoughtful consideration of data privacy issues. While the greater good suggests that passengers suspected of being ill should be screened and checked, all passengers have rights and expectations of data privacy. Though, perhaps, not as inarguably as before COVID-19.
How will governments regulate this technology? It’s safe to assume that what is allowed will vary country by country for the foreseeable future.
Still, we note the recent announcement by Dubai-based Emirates that it has begun COVID-19 blood tests on passengers at the airport before their flights. Emirates says the results of the blood test are available in 10 minutes.
Self-service is a growing passenger expectation
The global airport industry has done a great job delivering self-service technology. Today, with the latest mobile phone technology integrating with high-tech airports, passengers have a taste of what it’s like to proceed through each of the touchpoints in the IATA illustration with only minimal human interaction until they board their aircraft.
Self-service is a growing passenger expectation. Especially now. At London, Las Vegas, Houston, San Francisco, and other global airports, passengers can automatically check in at remote kiosks, process their own baggage, and pass through self-boarding gates. Lines, and close contact, is a fraction of what it used to be.
Collins is developing self-service technology as a mobile device app. Once passengers are on board an aircraft, they will have significantly less need to interact with flight attendants. They’ll be able to order food and drinks, control Inflight Entertainment systems and download movies from their own mobile devices.
And there are applications for this technology to be leveraged in airports for wayfinding. Passengers will be warned of airport congestion points as the congestion is building and with enough advanced notice to adjust their schedules. Self-service indeed.
Yes, there was a time not long ago when commercial airline passengers arrived early at airports to shop, eat and be merry before catching their flights. And they will again. Indeed, once travellers feel safe and confident, airports will be busy again. It’s an if-then relationship that leading-edge airport technology and a touchless travel experience can help deliver, today!