January 10, 2018

Biometrics Enter the Travel Industry

by Malek Murison

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Some things in the travel industry never change. Startups will keep on searching for new niches to target. The world will become increasingly small as travellers keep searching for the next horizon. The simple pleasures of sun, sea and sand will remain comfortably familiar to us all. Oh, and your luggage will occasionally end up on the other side of the world by some unknown misfortune. These are some of travel's constants, the things we can rely on to remain the same no matter what.

Except the thing is: We take some of those constants for granted. Lost luggage could be a thing of the past, if blockchain technology can be harnessed in the right way, for example.

A simpler target for now though is the humble boarding pass. In recent years it has moved from paper to screen, as more travellers have downloaded passes to a smart device rather than printing out a hard copy. Now the boarding pass could be set for another revamp, following the start of British Airways trials at Los Angeles Airpot.

Biometrics in the Travel Industry

You've heard the term 'biometrics' before. Now it's moving from the movies into the real world. Information more commonly found in crime dramas and futuristic Hollywood thrillers is being applied in the travel industry.

Fingerprints and facial recognition are already being used to unlock smartphones and open doors, so why not use that information to act as a boarding pass, too?

That's exactly what British Airways is working on at the moment. BA has become the first airline to trial self-service biometric boarding gates on international flights out of the USA. At Los Angeles Airport, British Airways has begun a trial that could lead to a total transformation of the airport experience. In future, paper and downloaded passes could be unnecessary - all of that queuing and fuss may be replaced with a simple facial scan.

Read more: How to Choose a Travel Marketplace Niche

British Airways and Vision-Box Aim to Smooth the Customer Journey

Created by Vision-Box, a technology company based in Lisbon, the new passenger boarding system from BA allows travellers to gain clearance for boarding by looking into high-resolution facial recognition cameras.

The potential is huge. We all know that the need to prepare and present documents is one of travel's greatest stresses. The fear of losing or forgetting these slips of paper keep many of us on edge throughout the journey.

Just like the facial identification systems built into mobile phones, the biometric gates use high definition camera technology. These allow customers to pass through by recognising their unique facial features, which are compared against those already recorded through scans taken as part of the immigration process.

So far, the gates have been installed on three stands at Los Angeles Airport. British Airways is the only airline trialling biometric boarding with its customers.

The project extends technology already in use by British Airways on its domestic flights from Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

Carolina Martinoli, British Airways' director of brand and customer experience, said: “Our customers want the ability to simplify and speed up their journeys through the airport, so we’re investing in the most advanced technology that will enable us to streamline our boarding process and further improve our punctuality.

“We’re using biometric technology that consumers are now familiar with and trust because it delivers a convenient, reliable and secure experience. This step forward to modernise our operation is a first in the industry, and we will continue to work with airports around the world to evolve this technology, and revolutionise the way in which people travel.”

“This industry-first deployment of innovative solutions from the US Customs and Border Protection and Vision-Box, shows the amazing potential of using biometrics to speed up the boarding process while maintaining safety and security,”  said Los Angeles World Airports Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Justin Erbacci. “We have been very impressed with the results thus far, and love to see the passengers’ excitement at being some of the first in the world to use facial recognition to board British Airways flights from LAX to Heathrow.”

The facial recognition scanners could reduce boarding time.

It's all about identity

It's expected that there will be nearly 4 billion air passengers in 2018. This number is set to double over the next twenty years. These are huge numbers for airports and current transport infrastructure to deal with. So those in tourism and aviation need to come up with smarter, faster processes. Essentially, we need to speed up the little things.

Go to any airport in the world and you will see queues. At check-in, at the departure gate, at immigration. All of these queues are necessary because staff are required for safety and security reasons to ensure that passengers are on the right flights. They need to make sure nobody is getting access to an area or flight that they shouldn't.

But if we break it down further, what's really happening is the verification of identity. These checks are to make sure that every traveller is who they say they are. Although extremely difficult to forge, it is possible to fake passports and other means of identity verification. Boarding passes are probably more of a challenge given how closely they are generated to the time of travel. But if there's one thing that is pretty much impossible to fake, it's your face and all of its minute characteristics.

Read more: Why B2B Travel Technology is Vital to the Industry

How biometric boarding works

Today's facial recognition tech is getting smarter.  The system deployed by Vision-Box captures a live, high-quality image of each traveller’s unique biometric facial traits. These are compared to images captured previously. In this case, those previous images are taken at immigration. But in the future, it's possible to imagine a system that has every traveller's face on file already.

After confirming the identity and eligibility of the passenger on that specific flight, the gateway opens and the traveller can board the aircraft.

Justin Erbacci, chief innovation and technology officer at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the airport oversight and operations department, said, “This industry-first deployment of innovative solutions from the US Customs and Border Protection and Vision-Box, shows the amazing potential of using biometrics to speed up the boarding process while maintaining safety and security. We have been very impressed with the results thus far, and love to see the passengers’ excitement at being some of the first in the world to use facial recognition”.

Miguel Leitmann, Chief Executive Officer and Founder at Vision-Box explained the reasons for success: “Vision-Box made use of state-of-the-art biometric technology, able to deliver high-quality data that drastically enhance matching accuracy, sustained by in-house developed Deep Machine Learning engines for superior facial capture."

"The results present a solution that addresses current security, efficiency and flow-control challenges in a relevant, revolutionary way. We are very proud to have come up with an industry-changing solution that all stakeholders involved in the process rely on. In the end, it’s about collaboratively raising the security and efficiency standards while eliminating obstacles from the traveller’s way, offering frictionless interactions and the best experience to guests until they’re comfortably seating in the aircraft.

The benefits of biometrics

The byproduct of a move to biometric boarding passes and a more tech-based identity system? More convenience for all parties involved and a smoother experience for travellers.


For proof, you only have to look as far as passport control at airports such as London's Gatwick and Heathrow. Both have a form of electronic passport checks at immigration. These come into their own when multiple planes land at the same time and there is a high number of arrivals.

The platform for the capability is already partly in place. There are more than 1 billion electronic passports now in service worldwide, and therefore one billion passport photos accessible in standardised format by face recognition systems.

So it looks as though biometric identity verification will soon become the standard for international travel. Some will have concerns about a centralised database containing images, but plenty of others will be happy to avoid queues and some of the stresses that come with airports.

When technology meets travel

Biometric boarding gates is a great example of technology improving the travel industry where it really counts. But you don't need a high-tech facial recognition system to improve the customer experience.

Sometimes it's as simple as providing a platform that gives travellers all the information, tips, expertise and boking opportunities they need, right under one roof.

Here at Travelshift we do exactly that. Our marketplace platform software is ideal for ambitious travel industry hopefuls who want to make their mark in a particular travel niche. Got a market in mind or a country you want to bring to the masses? Get in touch with us today or read more about how Travelshift software can help you compete with the big boys in no time at all.