queues at airports
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Irra Ariella Khi, CEO of Zamna, discusses why data security challenges are causing queues at airports and what can be done to solve this

Air travel has long been associated with queues, repeated ID checks and tight security. Despite gradual improvements to the passenger experience, the reality is that air travel still involves many checks, inefficiencies and hold-ups and unfortunately, there’s a real possibility that it could get worse for British travellers before it gets better.

Next year British passengers are set to be included in the upcoming European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), an EU initiative designed to improve border controls by requiring travellers from (currently) visa-free countries to obtain additional authorisation from the EU prior to travelling into the Schengen area. With these significant regulatory changes on the horizon, the call for new technologies to help streamline air travel is more pertinent than ever.

ETIAS and One ID

The introduction of ETIAS will give the EU greater certainty when assessing visitors from countries that do not currently require visas for the Schengen area. However, the entire system is reliant on passengers providing correct data in advance – a challenge that already plagues airlines with up to 50% of passenger data having some form of mistake[1].

Without more effective systems for validating passenger data ahead of travel, airlines may not be able to confirm a passenger’s status for travel in advance of that passenger presenting themselves for pre-departure checks. This means that airline staff will have to continue manually checking passports in order to establish that a passenger has the necessary approved status for travel, slowing down departure processes and introducing more queues. It’s unclear at this stage what margins for error will be built into the ETIAS process application and the travel approval processes, but airlines may have to refuse travel to passengers who either do not have an ETIAS at all (because they failed to apply for one, or provided inaccurate data on application) or because the passenger data provided to the airline does not provide an accurate match with an ETIAS approval, meaning the passenger does not have the necessary status to travel to any destination where ETIAS is in place.

Research from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reveals that the majority of passengers find a queuing time at the airport of longer than 10 minutes unacceptable. If airlines don’t introduce new processes in order to establish passenger status or check ETIAS approvals in advance of passengers arriving at their point of departure, queues of much longer than 10 minutes are inevitable, and passenger frustrations with the airlines will increase.

In 2016, IATA created a cross-industry transformation programme to deliver passenger ‘One ID’ between airlines and governments, with the mission of creating an “end-to-end passenger experience that is secure, seamless and efficient”. The One ID vision is twofold: first, it aims to help airlines meet the expectations of government agencies by providing accurate passenger data for the purposes of immigration, border control and national security decision-making, as enshrined in the ICAO Annex 9 obligations whereby all airlines must provide the relevant authorities with accurate passenger data. This is essential both from a security perspective and for avoiding the significant operational costs incurred by the non-compliance of airlines – currently each year, airlines are being fined in the millions for providing inaccurate data to governments. Secondly, One ID benefits the passenger by creating a much more efficient travel experience, which is important given that passengers are increasingly opting for ‘ready to fly’ options, such as validating travel documents and checking in bags from home – indeed, the smoother their experience, the higher the NPS score awarded by passengers to the airlines.

The ambitious goal for One ID relies on ensuring that accurate passenger passport data can be combined with authentication of the passenger’s biometric identity (such as fingerprints or facial recognition), which would enable biometric recognition to be used by the passenger for each subsequent touchpoint in their journey. This can only be possible if the authenticity and validation of the data can be established and re-established, with the reputational score of that data increasing with every successful authentication, and this is where new technology platforms play a vital part.

It’s a data verification problem

The major challenge facing the successful implementation of One ID is the lack of trust in the accuracy and veracity of passenger data, and the inability of airlines and agencies to safely share either their verifications or the underlying passenger data. Given that air travellers enter incorrect passport data 50% of the time, it is no surprise that governments are not satisfied with the quality of that data, and as a result, airlines are still compelled to manually check and re-check the data in every passenger’s documents.

Without systems in place by which airlines and government agencies can securely verify passenger data, and check for any previous verifications, there will be no solution for repeated manual checks we experience today. If this challenge is to be solved, it must be accomplished without ever exposing the underlying passenger personal data.

Without a trusted, secure system for sharing passenger data, airlines maintain it siloed across their own systems, while governments seek to protect their data sets separately within their own secure systems, which means that the same passenger data needs to be checked manually by the same airline and the same government, each time. This is the case regardless of how many times the passenger has travelled before, even if they are connecting onto another flight on the very same day or with the very same airline.

The airport of the future

The challenge of how to successfully and securely verify passengers’ data between various stakeholders in the airline-to-government process can be resolved by applying the principles of blockchain technology. In particular, the principles of decentralisation and immutability on blockchain provide the ideal solution for both the data verification and data security challenges.

By utilising blockchain-enabled technologies, built with ‘privacy by design’ principles, a record can be made each time a passenger’s data is validated as accurate. Each time a passenger dataset passes validation, it builds reputational value with an increased ‘integrity score’ for that data. Conversely, if a data presents repeated errors, its reputational value is decreased, and it can be instantly flagged up to an airline or a government as inaccurate. When combined with blockchain’s inherent immutability, this approach enables both the airlines and the governments can be 100% confident in the accuracy and validity of passenger data. It also enables them to check the data for previous authentications or errors, without either party needing to either store a copy of or share the personal content of that data with the other.

This vision for the ‘airport of the future’ is already being trialled across the aviation industry, and Zamna has been working with both IAG and Emirates airlines to improve the travel experience and to deliver the first step towards One ID with the implementation of innovative data verification technologies. In addition, Dubai Airport’s ‘Smart Tunnel’ pilot has demonstrated that facial recognition technology could replace the manual process entirely, shortening the check-in process to 15 seconds and removing the need for human intervention – but only if powered by accurate and verified passenger data, provided in advance.

By dramatically cutting the need for manual ID checks, validation technologies coupled with biometric processes will empower both the airlines and the government agencies to have confidence in establishing passenger identity through accurate and valid data; these will ease operational burdens on the airlines, and enable passengers to travel more quickly and seamlessly than ever before. Queuing at airports could soon become a thing of the past.



[1] Zamna research 2017, figures formally adopted by IATA in 2018


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