From this summer, passengers at the UK’s biggest airport will no longer have to show passports or boarding passes as Heathrow introduces facial recognition software as part of a £50 million project.
The airport, which serves some 80 million people a year, is confident that its introduction will streamline the check-in to take-off process, cutting down a passenger’s journey by up to a third.
The biggest single deployment of this technology in the world, facial recognition will be used at check-in, bag drops, security lanes and boarding gates to create a seamless experience.
However, passengers will still need to bring their passport with them for their onward destination. They will also have to link their passport at the start of the journey with their facial biometric information to allow them to register for the service. This might involve going to automated kiosks to scan their passport and have their photo taken. The system would then `match' their face to the document and their travel details, so that they could then pass through the airport just by looking into cameras.
The technology has been in place at certain points within Heathrow since last October, for example on entry to the UK at the border with biometric e-gates and for domestic journeys through the airport.
However, this will be the first time that Heathrow will have used the system at every stage of departure, thereby removing the need for travellers to present several different travel documents over and over again.
Airport authorities also believe that facial biometrics are more accurate than these manual checks.
Heathrow says the “long-term aim of the technology will be for passengers to walk through the airport without breaking their stride”. Indeed, British Airways, who have previously shifted towards biometric boarding in America, say that their boarding times have halved there.
Research from IATA revealed that 64% of passengers are prepared to share biometric information if it makes their journey run more smoothly. However, the airport will still allow travellers to opt out of if they so wish.