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Aviation - A Brighter Tomorrow: Contactless travel, greater freedom or greater restrictions?

  • Market Insight 03 August 2020 03 August 2020
  • Global

  • Aviation

This third article in our series, 'Aviation – a brighter tomorrow', considers some of the concerns associated with the move to a contactless travel experience.

Digital developments in travel

Creating a safe, sanitised, seamless and contactless experience has been widely discussed as being vitally important to getting the airline industry back on its feet and encouraging people to fly. 

Developments in the digital technology sector have led to a number of new standards in air transport, such as ticketless travel and online check-in. But these technology advancements are not without implications which, as their use becomes more common place, will require careful thought.  

Airports have seen significant advancements in technology over the last 10-20 years. A key one has been the integration of biometrics. First initiated to help governments and agencies identify security risks, capturing facial biometrics enables airlines to know their customers and support them throughout their journey with personalized services tailored to their individual preferences and needs.

Imagine a journey where your face is the passport and the ticket. Your face unlocks the car and starts the engine. It also gets you into the airport car park and locks the car when you leave. You arrive at the airport terminal, drop your bag on a self-help belt, walk through security and immigration with no interruption and then board your aircraft immediately. There are no barriers and nothing to touch. Seamless travel.

Some observers argue that this will all be possible because you will be tracked in real time. Tagged before you leave home and monitored all the way to the airport. Your life history, family and friends, political leanings, internet usage, shopping preferences, well-being, health and other unique markers will all be recognised and updated through facial biometric identifiers. 

The way of the future?

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are a number of well-known international airports where biometrics have not actually led to shorter queues or ease of travel. The reasons including unreliable equipment, the absence of proper passenger through-flow management and the inordinate amount of time spent screening baggage.

There are also increasing privacy and civil right/civil liberties concerns regarding the collection, use, and storage of data, by governments and private actors. This has led some jurisdictions to impose a ban on facial data collection.

5920660_1.jpeg Also, what happens when you aren’t easily recognizable? Although the technology has come a long way over the years, facial recognition systems are still not 100 percent accurate. The human face changes in shape and texture over time. Variations in pose, illumination of the face, and expression can all result in errors. Glasses can also result in higher error rates for unfamiliar face matching. Then what happens when your face is obscured by a mask?

What happens when the data is compromised and hacked?  

And what is the position if you have underlying conditions that place you at greater risk of transmission of illnesses during travel – you are overweight or perhaps instead you have kidney, lung, liver or heart problems. You have high blood pressure or low pressure. You are a diabetic, you once had pneumonia, you are pregnant or elderly. Does that mean you will not be accepted for travel? The car will remain locked and taxis will not stop.  Discrimination rules kicked into touch. 

Fundamentally, what safeguards are there to the freedom of travel?  These questions and more will need to be addressed as the aviation market evolves at pace in the coming years. 


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