MIAMI – Biometric technology is poised to become a new way to begin your trip along with contactless check-in and passport controls.

“Biometric technology is the future of free travel but, at present, is randomly applied and this does not allow the expression of its full potential” declared Gloria Guevara, President, and CEO of WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council), during her participation at a round table held in occasion of the 75th IATA general assembly meeting in Seoul.

This happened in June 2019, well before the outbreak of COVID-19, and the topic remains current more than ever today.

Photo: Delta Air Lines

Contactless Check-in, Passport Controls

Airlines, airports, and border authorities are struggling to implement contact-less procedures, mainly based on facial recognition, and do away with the concept of “risk country” to move to a more sustainable and manageable concept of “risk passenger,” thus allowing travel and tourism to resume freely.

The contactless technology represents the solution to the problem, taking into account that with the extensive vaccination programs being rolled out worldwide, travel and tourism may resume in a massive manner, putting enormous stress on all the actors concerned, airports, airlines, and border controls.

Facial Recognition at Dubai’s DXB. Photo: DXB

What Exactly is Biometrics?

In France, the Comité National Informatique et Liberté (CNIL), in charge of protecting citizen’s freedom in regard to IT (Information Technology), defines biometrics as “the set of IT techniques enabling automatic recognition of an individual on the basis of his physical, biological or even behavioral characteristics”.

This includes face recognition, eye scan, and fingerprints the latter technique being dropped as it requires physical contact.

Mumbai Airport contactless check-in. Photo: SITA.


Once biometrics are defined, the technology has to offer solutions such as eGates, automated passport-less border crossing, and automated baggage check-ins such as Vision-Box Smart Borders Solutions, Smart Trust, or Biometric Self-boarding already in use in Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

Another player in this field is SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautique), owned by world airlines, with its Health Protect, an interface to allow transmission of data to airlines and borders control authorities.

The tech is presented as a bridge between various “Covid Passport” initiatives such as AOK Pass, CommonPass, or IATA Travel Pass. The SITA system is being tested in Germany, Estonia, and Milan (MXP) Airport.

Image: IATA

Implementations by UNO, IATA

According to VoxEurop, an independent European newspaper, the United Nations Organization (UNO) has already adopted an “IT wallet” for its employees, IATA has launched TravelPass in partnership with Accenture, Microsoft, Mastercard, Idemia, IBM and Google.

In addition, a number of airlines, the World Economic Forum, and The Common Project have entered into a partnership to create The Common Trust Network and launched The CommonPass App to allow the storage of travel health data.

Le Temps, a Swiss newspaper, published an interview of Sergio Colella, SITA President for Europe, where he stated that “In the same way as security after the attacks of September 11, 2001, health is becoming a top priority”.

Photo: Delta Air Lines

Concerns Raised by Biometrics

Besides being seen as a means to return to normality in travel and tourism, biometrics raise also concerns in regards to personal freedoms. Many persons are reluctant to share personal data and see biometrics as an intruder, menacing private life and autonomy, and imposing choices that, if not accepted, would result in deprival of rights.

VoxEurop published that the European Commission has started a plan to “examine the feasibility of introducing a common vaccination card/passport for EU citizens” and “develop European guidelines for the establishment of comprehensive electronic vaccination information systems.”

Among the objectives listed is the need to “overcome the legal and technical barriers that hinder the interoperability of national immunization systems.”

Featured image: Delta Air Lines