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British Airways is trialling biometrics for international departures


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Biometrics are not exactly a new thing in the travel world – British Airways has been using biometrics to speed up boarding on domestic flights since 2017 and American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, and others have been using biometric boarding gates at various US airports since 2018 – but now British Airways has announced a trial that will take things a step further at London Heathrow.

No passport needed when departing Heathrow T5

Select British Airways customers traveling internationally from London Heathrow Terminal 5 are being emailed three days before they’re due to travel and are being invited to volunteer to trial a new technology that will allow them to pass through Heathrow without having to show their passports.

Flyers who sign up to take part in this trial will be invited to scan their face, passport, and boarding pass on their smartphone or tablet ahead of travel, and then “Smart Bio-Pod cameras” at Heathrow T5 verify their identity (apparently, in under three seconds) allowing them to pass through the airport without having to show their passport.

Customers taking part in the trial can also register their identity at various touchpoints at T5’s Check-In Zone B.

The trial will run for six months on British Airways flights to Malaga. Customers who opt-in will be invited to make use of the Fast-Track security lane and will receive complimentary priority boarding.

If the trial is successful, this technology is expected to be extended to more international flights.

Thoughts

I can see how this could significantly improve boarding times on select international flights but I can also see how this may cause an issue as well.

Quicker boarding

Having to show your passport at check-in isn’t a major time sap for most passengers – standing in line to drop off checked bags and standing in line to clear security are where most passengers waste a lot of time – so airport check-in isn’t where this technology will be most useful.

When it comes to boarding, however, this technology could really speed things up.

British Airways uses biometric (facial recognition) gates on a lot (all?) of its domestic departures from Heathrow T5 and those flights usually board considerably quicker than international flights using the same size aircraft.

In the US, I’ve seen firsthand how efficiently airlines can complete the boarding process on a 777, a 787, or even an Airbus A380 when biometric gates are used in place of manual passport checks, and it’s impressive.

If this technology works, boarding at Heathrow could soon become a lot quicker and that’s very good news for passengers.

An issue waiting to happen

With things as they are, if a person forgets their passport at home, they’re going to find out at check-in or at the departure gate (if they checked in online) so they’re unlikely to land in another country without a passport.

If, however, this trial works as intended and passengers no longer have to show their passports anywhere in the airport, I can see it leading to an increased number of people arriving at their final destination to then suddenly find out that the passport they thought they had with them is actually still sitting on the kitchen table back at home.

In the US, where biometrics have been used for boarding select international flights since 2018, passengers still need to produce their passports at check-in or at airport security, and that significantly reduces the risk of anyone boarding an international flight without the necessary documentation to get into the country they’re flying to.

If no one is checking passports at any point at Heathrow, what happens when a passenger turns up in Spain without a passport? Who deals with that screw-up? Will BA help out?

I don’t understand this

BA has said that travelers taking part in the trial can also register their identity at various touch points at Heathrow T5 check-in zone B…but what’s the point of that?

If the whole point of this technology is to prevent people from having to show their passports at the airport on the day of departure, doesn’t giving them the option to clear verification at the airport render the whole exercise pointless?

Bottom line

British Airways is now trialing software that will allow it to offer passengers the opportunity to pass through Heathrow without having to produce their passport. On the one hand, I can see this making a significant positive difference to boarding times but I can also see it causing more issues for passengers who are less well-prepared.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. 1. Will I need to have my fingerprints taken at the airport?
    2. If I’m not a British Airways customer, can I still use the biometrics system?
    3. How long will the trial period be?

  2. You still have to have a valid real passport. Just faffing around with tech will make no difference when it breaks dowN.
    Do not do this UNTIL all passport reader teminals work.
    DREAMT UP BY SOME WET BEHIND THE EARS GEEK WITH A NEW MOBILE PHONE.

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