PHOTO: Delta Air Lines.

Written by: Jeffery Oboy, and Katharina Nickel • M2P Consulting, Inc.

Security Measures Continue to Grow

The global travel, transport, and logistics industry is under significant pressure to increase security and reduce unauthorized person movement, while efficiently and quickly processing an increasing number of travelers.

With air travel alone, 7.2 billion passengers are predicted to take to the skies in 2035, up from 3.8 billion passengers in 2016. The spike in air and other travel modes will present the industry with an even more significant security and customer service challenge than it faces today, necessitating an effective and strategic approach.

The increased burden on the travel transport system would usually necessitate considerable additions to staff and updated internal processes. In the case of air travel, the departure journey takes the passenger from ticket issuance, check-in, bag-drop, security control, emigration for international travel, to the final stop of boarding.

International arrival begins at border control and ends at the customs checkpoint. The complicated and extensive trip that a passenger takes inside of an airport presents a considerable hurdle to jump for airport, airline, security, customs and border control officials looking to minimize waiting times yet be certain of the passenger’s identity.

Biometric identification technologies offer the promise of a more streamlined and secure travel process to an industry struggling to keep up with increasing demand and security concerns. The evolution and success of fingerprint biometrics by law enforcement and border security officials across the globe indicates the vast potential ahead.

As facial and iris recognition technologies evolve, the use of biometrics in passenger identification is maturing and playing a growing and more significant role in travel, especially as the industry looks to better manage passenger flow and comply with more stringent governmental security measures rolling out across the globe.

The potential for biometrics and its role in security is vast, given its applications across air, land, and sea travel. The global biometrics market is projected to register a CAGR of around 14% till 2020 crossing US$ 21 billion by 2020.

Biometric Landscape

Not surprisingly, the increase in global terrorist activity, as well as the threat of terrorism, remains a major impetus for the biometrics push. The aftermath of 9/11 left authorities across the globe struggling to find better ways to identify, verify, and match passengers to international watch lists.

In 2004 for example, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) began collecting biometric data from foreign nationals arriving at U.S. air, land, and sea ports of entry. The CBP is now working to fast-track the addition of biometric verification for foreign nationals on exit from the U.S.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 57 countries used biometrics as part of their border control processes in 2012. The number of countries rolling out the technology continues to grow, indicating growing international acceptance of biometrics as a reliable security tool.

As the industry moves to ease traveler journeys while ensuring that they remain protected, it is a reasonable response to look to technologies to ensure travel safety. In the US, Delta is at work to introduce biometrics at bag-drop and boarding.

British Airways has already implemented self-service boarding gates for domestic flights, with facial scans at immigration and pre-security checkpoints reconciled at the boarding gate.

In Dubai, Emirates is working to deploy biometrics across the entire passenger journey. Aruba’s Happy Flow program uses biometrics to allow for 100% self-service of qualified ePassport holders from check-in to boarding.

For airlines and airports, as well as customs and border control officials across the globe, the investment in biometrics is fast becoming an imperative.

Limited Leadership, No Real Plan

In order to sustainably deploy biometrics, an organization needs to understand the technical, business, and social implications of deploying a cutting-edge initiative across organizations made up of many interests.

Despite the significant promise of biometrics, its implementation requires an understanding of the stakeholders, their concerns, and the limitations of the technology.

Integrating Touchpoints—Airlines, ground handlers, security, border control, and airport authorities must work in lockstep to implement new technologies that allow passengers and baggage to move safely and quickly to their destination.

Passenger touchpoints are many, including check-in, bag-drop, security, transfer, boarding, and immigration. The deployment of biometric solutions at any of the many touchpoints provides a unique challenge to stakeholders.

Who should be enrolling and storing a passenger’s biometric data and at what point in the travel journey?

The process requires a coordination of efforts, the acceptance of the technology, the willingness of all stakeholders to buy-in to the initiative, and an understanding of the learning curve inherent in adapting to it.

Best Practices & Standardization—At the moment, the biometrics environment continues to evolve at a breakneck pace. Each day brings new entrants into the field with initiatives that encompass and go beyond airline use.

Yet, not all biometrics providers are created equal. The ability of the technology to deliver on promised claims depends on the capabilities of the service provider and the underlying concept of operations that it embraces and promotes.

But deciphering which biometrics company is the best for your organization can be an onerous process given the evolving nature of the technology and the differences in the many service providers available today.

The newness of the industry means that best practices are not yet firmly in place. Additionally, a fledgling industry demands standardization of its technology, and the biometrics industry has yet to rise to that challenge.

Data Ownership & Privacy—For biometric systems to fully work and deliver the greatest value, passenger information (biometric and biographical) must be readily accessible both domestically and internationally.

Government ePassports are an answer working in many places throughout the globe. However, organizations need to readily share real-time information across the globe to make all aspects of biometric technology truly effective and sustainable.

Biometric systems must also adapt and respond to changes in passengers’ biometric characteristics, especially facial.

Burden of Cost—Biometric technologies require considerable investment, resulting in high upfront costs. No matter the point of deployment, costs will flow throughout the overall travel ecosystem when a new biometrics initiative is rolled out.

The government, the airlines, and airport authorities will need to increase their investment in the process for it to succeed. Commercial viability depends upon officials and the industry working in tandem to overhaul an industry and border control process in need of improvement.


The ever-increasing number of travelers, as well as their desire for better security and service, requires airlines, airports, security, and border control agents to have a coordinated and convergent response. For sea and rail travel and other logistics lines, the priority is on organizations to address employee access control weaknesses.

Biometrics remains an innovative solution to more efficient and secure travel. By using biometric systems, travel companies and authorities will be able to provide sophisticated and increased identity authentication at each passenger touchpoint, not just border control.

The technology also creates efficiencies across the system, allowing for staff reductions and, in turn, cost savings.

A successful and commercially viable rollout requires expert, seasoned, and neutral professionals to head off the challenges implicit in gaining agreement among stakeholders, find the right technology, and facilitate the transition. Without experienced consultants, biometric transformation initiatives will be a costly and time-consuming failure.