03 Nov 2021

The Power of Digital ID to Transform the Travel Experience

Thales technologies discusses the new challenges of air travel post pandemic as part of techUK's Digital Identity Week. #digitalidweek

As airports prepare for the restart of international air travel at scale, they are facing a new set of challenges; dealing with the ongoing global public health crisis and complying with new regulations. Thales technologies place the traveller at the centre of the journey. We enable airport operators, airlines and border officials to enhance the travel experience at the same time as increasing security through your journey. 

Secure check-in 

Passengers can check in remotely from any location (home, hotel, etc.) using their airline's mobile app. The identity of each individual can then be instantly verified with face recognition software, using a combination of a selfie taken by the passenger, liveness detection and a document authenticity check. The face recognition solution checks approximately 40 points on the passenger's face and issues an alert if there is any doubt about their identity. This is then matched with Thales’s extensive library of physical documents to confirm the travel document’s authenticity either through a picture or using NFC on the embedded chip.

Based on this identity verification and facial biometrics, a temporary digital token is then created for each passenger. The passenger's face then identifies them at check-in, bag drop-off, security, passport control and the boarding gate, removing the need to show a ticket and ID card at each checkpoint. The system analyses the facial features of an individual in real time, even when they are wearing a surgical mask, and matches it to the corresponding digital identity in the system. No personal data or photos are stored; an encrypted code created during check-in is the only reference the system requires.

Passengers are identified at the boarding gate in less than a second

During boarding, passengers are instantly identified by face recognition, without needing to remove their masks or show their boarding passes. In some cases, ground staff may be required to ask a passenger to show their health pass, which can be stored in a digital ID wallet on their smartphone, to prove their vaccination status, PCR test results, etc. This mobile ID wallet protects the passengers' personal data and certifies the authenticity, validity and integrity of the health data. Health passes can also be authenticated when passengers check in before arriving at the airport. This biometric solution for boarding gates reduces boarding times by one-third. To ensure privacy the system erases the temporary token once the aircraft has taken off. 

Smart airport operations to optimise the flow of passengers 

High-tech solutions from Thales also help to manage airport operations at numerous destinations. We provide airport operators with smart solutions and decision support tools that help them optimise and control passenger flows inside the terminal (from the entrance to the boarding and/or arrival gate). Using high-performance algorithms, these tools and solutions enable airport operators and other stakeholders to model flight arrivals and departures as well as other airport data and run simulations. Based on those simulations, they can anticipate possible travel disruptions (late or cancelled flights) and adjust resource availability on the ground to improve the passenger experience and reduce waiting times.

The next generation is here

One key fact stands out from the last 18 months is that during COVID we have seen the huge acceleration of digital technology adoption and a speed of acceptance that outpaced usual cycles. The next step to support our travel journey is to develop a digital companion to the passport, derived from a physical document, which would be used to speed up the flow in the journey. This would reduce the number of times an individual would need to prove his or her identity. It could be used before and after the journey (pre travel authorization, hotel, car rental). Such data would be stored in the cloud, virtualized in a smartphone, for more convenience. We imagine a future where the citizen will carry his physical passport in his pocket while relying on its digital credential to carry out his journey, with facial recognition validating his identity at the various checkpoints (airline, border).

As you can see the power of digital technology and specifically digital identity has huge transformational benefits for the traveller and putting them at the centre of the journey experience. The ability to do this whilst increasing security and enshrining privacy by design bring massive advantages for travellers, airports, airlines and governments.


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Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Head of Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID, techUK

Katherine joined techUK in May 2018 and currently leads the Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID programme. 

Prior to techUK, Katherine worked as a Policy Advisor at the Government Digital Service (GDS) supporting the digital transformation of UK Government.

Whilst working at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) Katherine led AMRC’s policy work on patient data, consent and opt-out.    

Katherine has a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Nottingham.

[email protected]
020 7331 2019

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Zoe Brockbank

Programme Coordinator, Policy, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.

The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.

Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.

[email protected]
020 7331 2174

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