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6 ways that biometrics are removing friction from the travel experience

Biometrics is a hot topic in many industries right now—but it’s not so new in the travel industry. For more than 20 years, security officials, governments and border agents have been using biometrics to improve security at airports and border crossings. This includes fingerprints, facial recognition, retina scans, palm prints, voice and more.

This has led to the growing popularity of programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. However, as it did with so many facets of our lives, the pandemic has hastened the adoption and acceptance of biometrics across the travel industry and served as a catalyst for innovation.

Travellers, always happy to see shorter lines at airports, appear to be keen. According to IATA’s 2021 passenger survey, the number of passengers willing to share biometric data to streamline their airport experience increased from 46 percent in 2019 to 73 percent in 2021.

The benefits of integrating biometrics into the traveller experience are clear:

  • Convenience
  • Efficiency
  • Enhanced security and accuracy
  • Facilitation of no-touch interactions in a world that’s now hyper-aware of hygiene

Here at sherpa°, we like to celebrate the ways that tech can remove travel friction, allowing people to move confidently and securely around the world. So here’s a look at six ways that biometrics are fostering a frictionless travel experience in a post-pandemic world.

1. Cutting down the need for paper identification

Historically the pre-flight protocol has involved a lot of paper—tickets, passports, boarding passes and so on. But more and more airlines are embracing the option of biometric verification. According to SITA, an IT provider for the air transport industry, airline investment in biometrics is forecasted to rise 60 percent by 2024. SITA’s SmartPath technology has already enabled some domestic United Airlines passengers at San Francisco International Airport to move from bag drop to boarding without showing a boarding pass or form of ID. The day may be closer than we think when a traveller can walk through an airport and have minimal to no human touch-points before they board their flight.

Furthermore, in a post-COVID-19 world, where even more paperwork has been added to the pre-flight experience in the form of vaccination and testing documentation, there is the potential for even further efficiency gains.

Biometric-enabled digital identities could integrate the kinds of services that became commonplace during the pandemic such as IBM’s Digital Health Pass. Along those same lines, the integration of programs like ESTA and ETIAS into the traveller’s verified digital identity could make things easier at the border and beyond.

2. Transforming the boarding experience

Legacy airlines across the US have been expanding their biometric boarding capacity, allowing passengers to opt-in to facial recognition technology to serve as their passport and boarding pass, rather than providing paper documents. For example, United Airlines recently said it boards 250 outbound international flights with biometric boarding procedures every week.

Vision Box currently operates biometric technology at 100 airports worldwide, and is intent on streamlining the passenger experience at the gate by facilitating boarding-pass-free boarding. The company says its technology halves the usual boarding time, enabling 400 people to board a plane in 20 minutes.

3. Enabling biometric bag drop

Delta Airlines and the TSA have partnered on a biometric bag drop program for TSA PreCheck travellers. The program, which launched at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in October 2021, invites eligible travellers who have already checked in via the Fly Delta app to proceed straight to a dedicated bag drop space upon arriving at the airport. After verifying their identity via a facial scan, they’ll be able to print and attach a luggage tag from a self-serve kiosk themselves. Once they place their own bag on the conveyor belt, passengers can proceed straight to security. From there, it’s onward to board their flight without the need for a paper boarding pass, using a facial scan instead.

4. Providing certainty on airport timings

One of the biggest annoyances for any time-strapped frequent flier is estimating how long they need to get through airport check-in and security. A new pilot program from CLEAR—the biometric identity verification service that allows travellers to bypass the TSA line—solves that pain point. With CLEAR’s “Reservation Lane,” passengers flying out of Orlando International Airport can reserve a time slot to go through airport security before they arrive. The program offers passengers the certainty that they’ll make their flight without having to arrive at the airport hours before departure.

5. Driving airport commerce

Biometrics also has the potential to streamline and improve the airside shopping experience. If all vendors in the airport ecosystem—including retail, restaurants and concessions—are able to opt into responsible data sharing programs, passengers can experience more customization and better customer service during the pre-flight experience, and airports can realize more revenue-generating opportunities.

6. Going beyond the airport

Applications for biometrics outside of the airport and flying experiences are starting to emerge as well. Car rental company Hertz has introduced biometric car rental lanes which make that last agonizing step of the travel journey—picking up a rental car—seamless and low-touch for the traveller. Powered by facial recognition and fingerprint scans instead of photo ID, the process is meant to cut down on the time to collect a rental car by 75 percent.

At sherpa° we’re passionate about freedom of movement. Our mission is to help travellers move freely around the world and to shift the way the world's leading travel providers approach border crossings. Through unmatched industry knowledge and expertise, we help our partners—from airlines to cruise lines to online travel agencies—open new ancillary revenue streams to help them reduce costs and operational risk while enhancing the customer journey and growing consumer confidence in travel.

More than simply providing a product or service, we're moving travel forward. Away from stress and confusion, and towards ease and connection. So travellers can move freely wherever life takes them. This is the future of international travel. Contact us today to find out how our suite of solutions can help grow your business.

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