British Airways trials biometrics for international departures from LHR T5

Facial recognition used at multiple touchpoints

Five years after introducing biometric checks on passengers at Heathrow Terminal 5, British Airways is starting a trial of more biometric checks at its principal terminal.

For domestic flights BA gathers the facial biometrics of passengers when they scan their boarding pass before security. Cameras at the boarding gates check the live biometrics match the biometrics gathered at security. Passengers also have to scan their boarding pass to open the egate.

The new trial takes facial recognition further.

It is for one international route – to Malaga from LHR T5. The big selling point is that passengers will not need to show their boarding pass or passport at LHR.

BA will select some passengers on each flight to take part in the trial. They will ‘invite’ those passengers by email three days before their flight.

If passengers decide to take part, they register their details – face, passport and boarding pass – on their smartphone or tablet ahead of travel.

At the airport, high definition cameras (BA call them Smart Bio-Pods) at touchpoints in the terminal will do the facial recognition. They take a picture of the passenger and compare the live data with that previously registered.

Touchpoints typically include self check-in kiosks, self bag drops, the boarding pass scan before security and self boarding at the gate.

Passengers still have to carry their passport as Spain needs to check it on arrival at Malaga.

Facial recognition is used at touchpoints in the airport. [Image: British Airways]

How big is the trial?

The trial is just for flights to Malaga and lasts for 6 months. Currently BA has 6 flights a week scheduled – 5 with A320s with up to 180 seats and 1 with a larger A321 with a maximum of 220 seats. It’s a trial so let’s say they start with 25% of the passengers – about 45 per flight.

If the trial is successful, BA will extend the system to more international flights.

The Smart Biopod has integrated facial recognition biometric technology and is future proofed for health screening checks.

British Airways and biometrics

Privacy concerns

BA is presenting the new system as convenient for passengers as they don’t need to show their passport when departing from LHR T5.

As usual with the use of biometrics in the airline industry there are question marks about passenger data privacy.

British Airways says “Passengers who sign up to take part in the airline’s trial from London Heathrow Terminal 5 will be invited to scan their face, passport and boarding pass on their smartphone or tablet ahead of travel, with this information being kept safe and secure.”

BA also says the “technology used in the trial has been created by travel technology company Amadeus, customised for British Airways”.

Amadeus is a Spanish based company and the unit doing the work is called Australian-based ICM Airport Technics. Both are well known in the industry.

No information at all about who keeps the information safe and secure, where it is kept, for how long and who has access to it.


Airlines and airports all over the globe are using more and more biometrics – mainly facial recognition. Most are adapting IATA’s One ID.

The big picture for OneID is that “passengers will be able to prove their identify and prove they meet the requirements for travel prior to departure and then identify themselves at each airport touchpoint through a simple biometric recognition.” 

The industry has already decided that more biometrics is on the way.

Internet links

British Airways (BA)



ICM Airport Technics