Air travel hassles eased with biometric and RFID technologies

October 2007 Access Control & Identity Management

For some people, travel means check-in and baggage hassles and delays. The problems even start upon arrival at the airport, just finding parking is a challenge.

Airports around the world are moving towards automation that increases passenger convenience without reducing the level of security.

The ultimate challenge is to make air travel a pleasant experience, minimising airline and airport resources, and maintaining a high level of security.

Self-service check-in kiosks are getting more and more popular and have been applied in airports around the world. At American Airlines, kiosks allow passengers to select or change their seats themselves, print a boarding pass, drop their baggage in a designated area and update their mileage status.

Introduced in 2000, each customer now on average spends 58 seconds to check-in using the kiosk. In 2000, only 5% of American Airlines' domestic passengers checked-in through the company website or kiosk. The number has now increased to 68%.

In 2005, IBM, one of the largest kiosk manufacturers, sold about 2000 kiosks, five times more than in 2000. Among airline companies that use IBM kiosks are Alitalia, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, British Airways, KLM, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines United Airlines, and US Airways.


Still, kiosks only minimise passenger waiting times in front of the check-in counters and airline company resources. An important part of the process is to verify passenger identity to validate that the person whose name printed on the ticket is the person boarding the flight.

The process is usually verified at the check-in counter by comparing the passenger's photo ID with their face. To streamline this process, biometric technology has been incorporated into the kiosks. Passengers can pre-register their unique fingerprint or facial data to be validated during the check-in procedure.

Governments across different countries have implemented biometrics as part of the effort to increase security. The US government has started to roll out electronic passports and visas with biometric data encrypted on RFID chips. Biometrics in immigration have been widely implemented, such as fingerprint scanning at Hong Kong borders and selected Canadian airports, and iris scanning in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) began a pilot programme on a trusted passenger scheme. The aim is to expedite security screening of passengers and focus on other passengers who are subject to more extensive screening.

Volunteering participants submit their biographic and biometric data to the TSA. TSA conducts an initial security assessment to ensure that the person is not a suspect.

Upon approval as a trusted passenger, the participant receives a card issued by the TSA. The passenger then presents the card and verifies their biometric data prior to travelling. This speeds up the security screening process.

The future vision on air travel

The International Air Travel Association (IATA) envisioned a seamless and integrated process called simplifying passenger travel (SPT).

A passenger, upon arrival, uses a self-service check-in kiosk and presents their e-passport, credit card, or frequent flyer card for identification.

The passenger is then required to verify their identity using a biometric scanning device, face or fingerprint recognition. A boarding token is issued which is used as a boarding pass. A bag tag is also issued which the passenger attaches to their baggage before dropping it at a designated area.

The passenger then proceeds to the restricted area for immigration processing and security screening. At border control, a biometric-based passport system speeds up the process. The security screening will be conducted at the agreed minimum international standards.

The passenger then proceeds to the boarding gate and is required to verify their identity with a biometric recognition system.

Upon arrival at their destination, the passenger reaches the arrival gate and authenticates their identity again using a biometric reader. The passenger's information is sent to border control and security control to facilitate intervention if required. Otherwise, the passenger may collect their baggage and exit the airport.

The process is a vision that will significantly increase passenger convenience and comfort.

Mike Cox is the operations manager at RCG Systems SA.

For more information contact RCG Systems SA, +27 (0)11 807 0707,,

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