Why contactless technology is key to rebuilding passenger confidence

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Contactless technology is all around us. When we pay for items with a bank card or mobile device, when we access workplaces or controlled locations, even when we unlock our phones using facial or iris recognition.

One area where contactless technology is growing is in the airport environment. The timing is crucial, too. With the travel industry rocked by the impact of Covid-19, the deployment of contactless technology is going some way to restoring passenger confidence.

At Amadeus we recently undertook a survey of 6,000 travelers to find out what would encourage them to travel again: 84% said that technology could play a role in restoring confidence, and 30% confirmed that technology that reduces human contact, queues and physical touchpoints would make them feel ‘much more comfortable’ when traveling. More than 25% said they would specifically like to use biometrics when traveling to remove physical checks and reduce queues.

Alongside contactless technology is a growing demand for self-service options: 38% said boarding using their mobile device would increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months, and 36% highlighted self-service check-in as an option that would boost their confidence.

Delivering a contactless airport experience

For airports, the change from physical, high-touch passenger service to a streamlined, contactless journey may seem a daunting one. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Existing self-service hardware such as check-in kiosks and auto bag-drop units can be retrofitted to match new passenger expectations.

With 38% of travelers in our study saying they would like technology to streamline the journey through public spaces, and another 31% wanting technology that minimizes contact with others, it will be crucial to adapt existing self-service infrastructure to meet new demands.

For example, self-service devices such as check-in kiosks and auto bag-drop units could be operated from a passenger’s own mobile device. The passenger could scan a QR code on their phone, which would turn it into a trackpad so they can navigate the self-service device’s screen with a cursor. It’s a quick, safe and easy process that offers the service that passengers are calling for while maximizing the value of the airport’s existing self-service investments.

Another option would be that the QR code initiates screen mirroring between the self-service device and the passenger’s phone, again enabling the passenger to easily complete the process with no requirement for interpersonal contact.

The role of biometrics

At Amadeus we are increasingly working with airports and their airline partners to deploy biometric capabilities across self-service technology. For example, with embedded biometrics the passenger can enroll once at a kiosk or auto bag-drop unit before using their biometric identifiers at the next service point.

The potential for biometrics to simplify the airport journey is significant. As a controlled environment where regular identity checks are a necessity, biometric identity verification offers a more efficient way to confirm a passenger’s identity.

A tokenized model enables the traveler to enroll with his or her biometrics just once, for example at a check-in kiosk or using their own mobile device, where their face can be scanned and captured as a unique ‘token’. This biometric token can then be used as the basis for matching against the passenger’s face at subsequent identity checkpoints at the airport and beyond. Such a token can be used for a single trip and then discarded, or the passenger can choose to keep it securely on their mobile device for future trips.

Of course, digital identity isn’t confined to travel; there are a growing number of initiatives led by governments and the private sector that offer Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) to the individual for broad use cases. This concept sees the individual assume ownership and control over their own digital identity so they can decide when and where it is used, with data typically stored locally on the individual’s device or sometimes using blockchain technology.

At Amadeus our biometric systems are designed to allow travelers to ‘bring your own identity’ (BYOI), so if they already use a single SSI for logging in to websites or when banking online, we want them to be able to use that same identity when traveling too.

If developed according to the right standards, biometric digital identity means the passenger no longer needs to provide a paper passport or boarding pass when dropping a bag, accessing the airport lounge, passing through border control or boarding the aircraft. That’s because the passport can be ‘electronically bound’ to the passenger’s facial scan within the token, allowing the passenger’s face to become a substitute for their paper documents.

The key factor for an effective airport biometric deployment is delivering this capability end-to-end, rather than at isolated service points, which might avoid only one manual document check. A truly end-to-end biometric experience from check-in to boarding increases automation while alleviating the traditional bottlenecks that lead to crowding.

The potential for interoperable biometrics in travel could extend far beyond the departure airport to other stages in the traveler journey. Upon arrival at their destination, passengers could use their biometric token at border crossing, customs, health document checks and baggage claim. Beyond the airport, with a trusted biometric digital identity, it becomes possible to identify travelers at a hotel or when renting a car. Indeed, with time, this type of innovation may unlock more automated business models across the industry, such as self-service car hire. Imagine being automatically recognized as you arrive to collect a rental car with the key dispensed by a machine, or a digital key sent to your smartphone to operate the vehicle. But delivering end-to-end, even just within the terminal, requires the right IT architecture and that’s why cloud computing is so important.

Cloud computing: The great enabler

Perhaps the most fundamental piece of the puzzle to ensure a streamlined, contactless passenger experience is having the flexibility to adapt to different passenger demands while still delivering a consistent service.

Cloud technology can provide this flexibility by allowing data to flow when and where it is needed, meaning passengers can serve themselves at any unit during check-in and bag drop without any support.

What’s more, with the cloud, airports can be agile in deploying service points. No longer tied to traditional network connections, service points do not need to be placed based on network availability or the consolidation of connectivity to contain costs. They can instead be placed as and where airlines and passengers need them.

When passenger handling systems are cloud-based it’s much easier, quicker and cost-effective to connect up biometric scanners and cameras embedded at check-in, bag drop, security and boarding. Importantly, these sensors typically need to work for all airlines at an airport and that means they need to be connected to applicable airline applications. Without the cloud this integration task makes widespread roll-out of biometrics a significant challenge, especially in settings where the identity system needs to work for many airlines.

Covid-19 is challenging airports to do things differently at an unprecedented pace, sometimes with constrained resources. The good news is that the transition to a connected, biometric and contactless airport will provide a world-leading airport experience that meets the needs of passengers for many years to come.

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