Heathrow plans for world’s largest deployment of biometrics

Facial recognition to be used at multiple points in the airport

Heathrow has announced plans for a full-scale roll out of new biometric checks from the summer of 2019.

Facial recognition biometrics will be deployed at multiple stages of the passengers’s journey through the airport, including check in, bag drop and boarding.

Heathrow says that facial biometrics are more accurate than manual checks, offer increased security and the potential to allow for greater personalisation of passenger services. The airport says personalisation is useful for passengers requiring additional assistance. It can of course also be useful for the airport for commercial reasons.

The £50 million project is part of a wider programme of investment to streamline passenger journeys. Once complete it will mean that Heathrow will have the world’s largest deployment of biometric products. The long-term aim is for passengers to be able to walk through the airport without breaking their stride.  Passengers have already been trialling the new services in the live operation throughout 2018.

Currently, manual authentication means that passengers need to present different forms of ID such as boarding cards, booking reference numbers as well as their passports to different agents to show that they’re authorised to travel.

Heathrow has been using facial recognition at ABC e-gates for some years with mixed results. When it works, it is really good, but often there are long lines and too often many of the ABC e-gates are not in use.

Jonathan Coen, Heathrow Customer Relations and Service Director:

As our passenger numbers continue to grow, we must look for innovative ways to make it easier and quicker for them to travel through Heathrow with choice, whilst keeping our airport secure. Biometrics are key to helping us do that and we are really excited about the biggest roll out of this equipment at any UK airport.

“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 and we’re looking forward to working with our colleagues and the airline community as part of our ongoing transformation at Heathrow, with a focus on enhancing passenger experience.”

N.B. Image credit: Heathrow Airports Limited

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