Facial recognition to speed up Heathrow boarding

Passengers at Heathrow will be able to use facial recognition biometrics to streamline their journey through the airport this summer.

The world’s largest deployment of biometrically-enabled products is set to transform the Heathrow passenger experience by speeding up the check-in, bag drop and boarding process.

The £50 million project to use facial recognition biometric services should reduce the average journey time through the airport by up to a third. It will also significantly cut the amount of paper used when flying.

Currently, manual authentication means that passengers need to present different forms of ID, such as boarding cards, booking reference numbers as well as passports. Facial biometrics are more accurate than manual checks and offer increased security.

Reduced boarding times

Research by airline industry body IATA shows that 64% of passengers would choose to share their biometric data if it meant a better travelling experience.

This summer’s trial project at Heathrow is being replicated at a number of other major airports around the world, including Changi airport in Singapore. At the world’s busiest airport — Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson — Delta Airlines has just opened the first-ever dedicated biometric terminal.

When the new technology went online in October, Delta said less than 2% of customers opted out of the process. The airline estimates it saves an average of two seconds for each customer at boarding, or nine minutes when boarding a wide body aircraft.

Passenger benefits

Heathrow already uses facial recognition at UK border control through the use of biometric e-gates. By extending the technology to more points in the passenger journey, there’s the potential to allow for greater personalisation of services, which could be useful for passengers requiring additional assistance.

Customer relations and service director Jonathan Coen said: “With this technology we’ll be able to offer passengers choice on how they travel through our airport, with colleagues on hand to guide passengers that require it.

“Biometric technology has been well received by our passengers so far.”