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Biometrics technology promises to end long lines at the airport and increase personalization

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Fascinated by the promise of streamlined airport checkpoints, improved security and greater personalization in air travel, we interviewed Joey Pritikin, vice president of Product Management at Tascent, a leading maker of biometrics technology. The company recently published a whitepaper, "A New Golden Age for Air Travel," which, in part, details how iris recognition and other biometrics tech can expedite security checkpoints and make flying an enjoyable and personalized experience again.

Tascent recently published a white paper that explores the potential of biometrics technology as a way for the airline industry to make air travel enjoyable again. What exactly is biometrics technology?

Biometrics is the use of unique human characteristics to establish and verify individual identity. Typical biometric modalities include fingerprint, face, voice, and iris recognition, each of which has its own benefits. As consumers, with the introduction of Touch ID on the iPhone and a variety of other emerging technologies, we are becoming familiar with the way biometrics can provide enhanced convenience for access control or mCommerce. We see this as a watershed moment for the biometrics industry, to be followed by increasing use of varying biometric modalities in ways that increase efficiency, personalization, and security. Tascent, with many of our industry peers, sees iris recognition in particular as an ideal biometric for many applications as it is very fast, accurate, stable, and non-invasive. When implemented in the right way, it can also be very intuitive and well suited to a wide variety of commercial applications.

What are some practical ways this technology could be implemented to streamline the air travel experience?
By nature of the security required in air travel, there are now numerous checkpoints throughout a journey where travelers need to verify their identity. When handled in a conventional way, this results in long lines, long wait times, and frustrated travelers. Biometrics offers a great opportunity to streamline the whole travel process by automating identity checks and thereby reducing wait times and allowing travelers to spend time relaxing, working, shopping, or dining rather than standing in line.

The dramatic growth of air travel has also resulted in an experience that is often impersonal for the large majority of travelers. Biometrics offers the potential to create a more highly personalized and welcoming experience for travelers. Whether welcoming back customers, tailoring personal media options, or even streamlining payments, biometrics offers the opportunity to improve the travel experience in a secure, scalable way.

What stage of adoption are we at right now? Are there any airports or airlines implementing this technology now?
Biometrics has already been adopted in some meaningful ways that positively impact travelers around the world. Domestically, the Global Entry program allows for expedited immigration clearance for certain travelers, allowing them to skip long lines at traditional counters with the use of fingerprint recognition for identity verification. A wide variety of programs are used around the world to expedite immigration, reduce queues, and offer enhanced services. Tascent is pleased to enable Dubai's Smart Counter / Smart Gate system, which offers comprehensive biometric border management and automated clearance with iris recognition. UAE has effectively used iris recognition for over a decade for border security, but because of the speed, accuracy, and intuitive experience offered by Tascent's InSight Duo iris recognition system, we've helped Dubai Airport to leverage biometrics on a much broader scale to reduce wait times and improve traveler experience while supporting key security initiatives.

While there are a number of noteworthy programs at major international airports, biometrics is really only in its first wave of adoption. Looking ahead, we expect to see fast, accurate, and easy-to-use biometric systems being used to automate identity checks and expedite travel throughout the air travel journey, from check-in and bag drop to security lines and automated airplane boarding. We also expect to see mobile devices used in the airport and even in-flight to facilitate program enrollment, offer VIP services, and help streamline immigration and other processes that would typically be time-consuming for travelers, airlines, and government agencies alike. Finally, as the use of biometrics continues to evolve, we expect to see air travel become more personal again, with airlines using biometrics not only to facilitate identity verification, but also to offer highly tailored services in the airport and in the air.

What is the real value for travelers and will it end up costing more to fly?
The value of biometric identity for air travelers is multi-faceted: First, with quick, automated identity checks, air travelers will spend less time and experience far less hassle waiting in lines at security, boarding, and immigration. Second, they will have the opportunity to have streamlined, customized experiences in airport lounges and even in-flight through media, travel preferences, and payments linked to their personal profile. The combination of these benefits is that air travel will become less of a hassle and more of a pleasure. Air travelers will feel appreciated by airlines and will be able to make better use of their time in travel.

Importantly, this will not entail additional costs to travelers. To the contrary, the use of biometrics will allow airlines, airports, and government agencies supporting air travel to be more efficient with their human resources and physical space, offering more human touch for those travelers who need the most assistance while benefitting from the economies of automation for the rest. Insofar, when properly implemented, biometric identity has the opportunity to more than pay for itself, and not add to the cost of air travel.

Are there any personal risks associated with making this type of information available to the airlines or government?
Whenever personal information is shared with an airline or government agency, whether it be payment or traveler identity details, it is critical that the information be protected through both technology and policy. Organizations implementing biometric identity in air travel will have to build upon existing practices for securing and managing personal information. This includes a combination of information security and appropriate data access policy. In addition, for biometrics specifically, it will be crucial to implement approaches that are resistant to falsified identities with anti-spoofing and related technologies. This will benefit from both appropriate choice of biometric modality and the specific hardware and software solutions implemented.

Does the use of biometrics help in any way to protect against terrorism in the skies?

Biometrics can tangibly help to increase security in air travel in a few key ways: First, in certain cases, biometrics can be used to directly identify potentially dangerous individuals who may be on domestic or international watch lists. Second, it can help to identify if individuals are traveling under either falsified travel documents or potentially with travel documents that do not belong to them. Finally, the use of automated identity checks can allow airlines and government agencies to focus most of their security attention on potentially dangerous individuals rather than the large majority of travelers who offer no threat.

What does the future of biometrics technology look like in the next 5 to 10 years?

Biometrics technology will continue to become smaller, more cost effective, easier-to-use and more secure, and therefore, more and more ubiquitous. Technologies like iris recognition which are non-invasive, highly accurate, and very consistent will flourish. As consumers, we will experience biometrics in a broad range of environments, from social media and commerce to health care and travel. These applications will continue to push products and solutions to be more and more capable. As a result, strong identity will become both seamless and useful. For air travelers, this will continue to build upon the benefits of biometric identity we are already starting to see today: Faster travel, greater efficiency, and a more pleasurable journey.

Chris is the President and Co-Founder of, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.