Aviation steps closer to the 'walkthrough experience'

Aviation steps closer to the 'walkthrough experience'

Industry programs are helping to take us towards the holy grail of the seamless passenger journey. But to get there, all stakeholders must collaborate to embrace biometrics in identity management – freeing passengers through security, border control and onto the aircraft.

The ideal airport departure is one where passengers can move smoothly from the curbside to the gate with minimal hindrance or tension. Yet intense security and identity control at the frontier have frustrated the industry’s vision of a stress-free ‘walkthrough experience’, adding time and inconvenience to the passenger journey.  

And security and border control are not the only critical elements that most frustrate passengers and their quest for a smooth path from curb to gate. Baggage, queues and boarding delays can be equally frustrating.

Passengers are running out of patience

When it comes to queuing, passengers are running out of patience. IATA’s Global Passenger Survey shows that the amount of time they’re willing to queue has become significantly less in recent years (see ‘A balancing act – security and the seamless journey’).

But technology is playing a decisive role in mitigating the issue. It’s clear that passengers are happiest where there are technology-enabled processes, according to SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey. It shows that from booking and bag-drop, to border control and boarding, passengers are most satisfied where there’s seamless self-service and automation (see chart below). It’s obvious from the survey that security and passport control – where there’s been less automation to date – remain the areas of highest dissatisfaction.

A paper by researchers for the University of Austria shows that queuing time makes passengers most dissatisfied at the airport.


SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey shows that passengers are happiest when there’s self-service and automation at the various steps of the journey.

Industry action: Smart Security

Technology is a critical part of the visions of industry programs such as the IATA/ACI Smart Security program. The simple idea is centered on processing low risk travelers quickly, as long as they’re identified biometrically.

But in the multi-stakeholder environment of air travel, it’s not just about the technology: collaboration is a critical success factor. That’s why Smart Security concepts and solutions have been tested and evaluated in partnership with governments, airports, airlines, and solution providers. Airports – including Geneva, London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, London Gatwick and Melbourne – were early pioneers, with many more looking at how Smart Security concepts can be implemented.

NEXTT and One ID: ‘queue-busting technologies’

IATA and ACI announced a collaborative approach to smoothing the journey with the launch of the New Experience in Travel and Technologies (NEXTT) initiative.

The initiative will address the challenges of accommodating growth in air travel demand. Its focus is on what the two organizations call ‘queue-busting technologies’, such as digital identity management, automation and robotics – with everything linked together by means of trusted, real-time data.

SITA’s Matthys Serfontein, President, Air Travel Solutions: “NEXTT is welcomed by SITA, as we actively participate in IATA and ACI strategic community initiatives – including Simplifying the Business, Fast Travel, Resolution 753 and Smart Security.”

IATA’s One ID concept is a pivotal part of NEXTT, using a trusted digital identity and biometric recognition to facilitate improved customer experience, speed, efficiency and security.

The concept relies on early validation of the passenger’s identity, and controlled access to this information by various public and private stakeholders on an authorized-to-know basis, so that the passenger can be recognized and attended to in the most efficient way in subsequent process steps.

“We’re responding to community needs,” confirms SITA Insights research

Passengers are keen. Most of them today want to use their mobile when traveling, and 57% of them would now use biometrics, says SITA research.

The industry is responding too. More automation of passenger ID management is a clear trend evident in this year’s ‘Air Transport IT Insights (2018)’ which surveys both airline and airport IT trends. The research finds that airlines are increasingly investing in, and piloting, biometric solutions.

The installation of self-boarding gates using biometrics with ID documentation is now on their radar, with 63% of airlines having implementations or plans by 2021. Blockchain is in the mix too, as potentially enabling airlines to enhance passenger identification, through biometrics.

IT trends at airports echo this, with SITA’s research citing the momentum with which airports are automating passenger processes. Self check-in via kiosks is almost ubiquitous because of significant past investments.  But for future investments, 77% of airports have set their sights on biometric ID management solutions.

These include self-boarding gates using biometrics and ID documents: 59% of airports have implementations and/or plans by 2021. These gates will be commonplace by the end of 2021, an undoubted contributor to the ‘walkthrough’ experience and seamless journey.

The research shows that airports see blockchain as offering the potential to improve passenger identification processes, by reducing the need for multiple ID checks.

More self-service investments at airports to tackle disruption and ID management

% of airlines planning major programs/R&D by 2021

Self-boarding: The next step for ID management

% of airports with implemented or planned ID management solutions by 2021

A biometrically secure journey

“It’s been clear for a while now that we’re getting ever closer to delivering a secure and hassle-free seamless passenger journey,” says Serfontein. “SITA’s id management solution, Smart Path™, is a perfect example, providing a biometrically secure journey in response to growing air transport community requirements,” he adds.

After a single biometric check using Smart Path™, passengers can move through the airport and board the aircraft. SITA’s Smart Path™ Mobile app also allows passengers to create a secure biometric credential on a mobile phone that can then be used at every touch point in the journey.

Uniting the ‘players’ – a must

“But it’s equally clear that in developing these solutions, it’s vital to have good collaboration among all those responsible for the various stages of the journey,” says Serfontein.

A recent paper, ‘Biometric Boarding using Identity as a Service’, endorses the need to unite stakeholders. A joint project among IAG, BA, IATA and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, the paper underlines the point:

“The challenge of enabling sustainable growth and meeting rising demand for air travel requires new collaborations, new technology and new processes; identity management innovations in particular will impact all stakeholders. By working together, and addressing existing inefficiencies, the industry can deliver benefits for passengers, governments, airlines and airports,” says the paper.

The integrated and frictionless solution devised with the airline and SITA is proving a success for everyone – the airline, the passengers and CBP.

John Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)


Multi-stakeholder collaboration – in action

SITA’s identity management solution, SmartPath™, joins up the players across the journey, linking fully into government systems and databases, and allowing integrated immigration and border checks.

Examples of solutions and trials requiring effective cooperation among multiple industry players, using SITA Smart Path™, include projects at Australia’s Brisbane Airport and Air New Zealand, British Airways and Orlando Airport, Hamad International Airport, and the award-winning JetBlue and the US Customs and Border Protection collaboration.

In all cases, they exhibit the ‘queue-busting’ capabilities and/or potential of biometrics, which can vastly reduce passenger processing times at airports.

Serfontein again: “As part of the air transport community, SITA works with the players across the travel chain to improve passenger processing, airport operations, baggage processing, border management and aircraft operations.

“All of our developments and co-innovations for identity management, biometrics, mobile and other technologies are by their nature collaborative – this is the only way of advancing air travel towards the walkthrough experience,” he concludes.

Good collaboration is vital in providing identity management and border solutions, as it involves the effective interaction of many stakeholders. This is clearly seen in our pioneering biometrics solutions and trials for JetBlue and British Airways, as well as Brisbane, Hamad, Miami and Orlando airports.

Matthys Serfontein, President, Air Travel Solutions, SITA

'Queue-busting' ID management - a few examples

SITA works with numerous air transport organizations to deliver queue-busting id management solutions. Here are just a few examples.

Our award-winning project with JetBlue and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency  tested SITA’s biometric scanning technology to provide a paperless and device-less self-boarding process, a first for the integration of biometric authorization by the CBP with an airline.

Dubbed ‘Board in a snap’, passengers could simply stand in front of a camera for a quick photo to board, eliminating the need to show a boarding pass, passport or any other papers.

Passengers flying with British Airways from Orlando International Airport to London Gatwick experienced a secure and seamless departure with new biometric boarding at the gate. The process involves one quick photo to board the international flight – again no passport, no boarding card. “This innovative boarding process is already proving popular with passengers,” said John Newsome, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s CIO.

“They simply look at the camera and within seconds the gate opens and they can board the flight.” Following the trial, SITA was chosen by GOAA as the technology partner for biometric exit at Orlando, integrating Smart Path™ at the airport’s 30 international boarding gates.

Australia’s Brisbane Airport and Air New Zealand utilized SITA Smart Path™ to capture passengers’ details via a facial scan, checking that against the record of passengers’ travel documents to create a secure single token, allowing boarding without showing a passport or boarding pass. Launched last year, this was Australia’s first trial using facial recognition technology at check-in and boarding.

“The technology “integrates with our existing common-use infrastructure – check-in kiosks and boarding gates – and can be used by any airline that operates on a common-use kiosk,” said Roel Hellemons, General Manager Strategic Planning and Development, Brisbane Airport Corporation.

Meanwhile, a SITA MOU with Hamad International Airport focuses on seamless identity management across all key passenger service points using biometrics. Trials there will also evaluate robots for passenger facilitation; blockchain technology for rapid and secure sharing of data across stakeholders; and the potential use of augmented and virtual reality for operational concepts.

SITA leads on self-sovereign identity in travel

SITA is a Founding Steward of the Sovrin Foundation, a private-sector, international non-profit whose mission is to enable self-sovereign identity online. SITA will collaborate with the Sovrin Foundation and other Sovrin Stewards to create, operate and maintain the foundation’s decentralized digital identity network.

Sovrin is a decentralized, global public utility for self-sovereign identity. Self-sovereign means a lifetime portable identity for any person, organization, or thing that allows the holder to present verifiable credentials in a privacy-protecting way.

These credentials can represent things as diverse as a passport, an airline ticket or simply a library card. Sovrin identities seek to transform the current broken online identity system which is open to misuse and fraud.

Using self-sovereign identities could lead to lower financial transaction costs, protect people’s personal information, limit opportunity for cybercrime, and simplify identity challenges in a variety of fields including travel, healthcare, banking, IoT and voter fraud.

Trials with innovative airlines

SITA will be working with innovative airline customers to trial issuing credentials to small groups of passengers and allowing them to use them in controlled environments.  In doing so, travel industry leaders can see how self-sovereign identity might develop.

Gustavo Pina, Head of SITA Lab: “We know that companies would like to get personal data off their systems. With self-sovereign identity, individuals could maintain ownership of the data they need to travel and this would reduce the data management responsibilities of airlines, airports, governments and other stakeholders in the travel journey.

“There is a clear desire to move in this direction and while it might be hard to visualize today, I expect digital identities will be with us in the coming decade.”

Other Sovrin Stewards include Cisco, Deutsche Telekom, Digicert, IBM, and T-Labs.

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