It’s been a while since I first read that British Airways (BA) was going to introduce facial biometrics for boarding international flights at Heathrow. I don’t recall going through biometric gates for flights, and I fly a lot, so it must still be in limited deployment. Hurry up BA – this is a great example of biometrics as a convenience technology.

If you been in a BA boarding queue recently, you’ll know how convenient it is to board using the QR code on your phone and how inconvenient it is to fumble around getting your passport out to show at the gate and how annoying it is to be in the line behind people who put the phone down to rummage around in a bag to find the passport and then have to mess around unlocking the phone again because it locked while they were rummaging. So, if BA can do the passport scan and face capture away from the boarding gate they can make for a much smoother boarding process.

Of course the boarding pass has to be real. I remember watching an episode of “Britain on the Fiddle” about boarding cards. The program, which was excellent by the way, included reports of ID fraud that I found fascinating, but also featured Mickey Pitt, an engaging cigarette smuggler who masterminded an operation that used fake boarding passes to get in and out of airports undetected. Perhaps we can fix that problem with the same technology.

According to International Airport Review, a scan of the customer’s face is recorded when they travel through security, and when they arrive at the gate, their face is matched with this representation when they present their boarding pass. Thus you can get on the plane just using the boarding pass in your Apple Wallet and you can leave your passport in your bag.

I hope Terminal 5 will move to remote capture for all flights. Surely as an Executive Club member I should be able to have them capture a picture of my passport at home using Au10tix or similar and store it with my account so that next time I go to the airport I can breeze through the boarding process: they should get rid of the “priority” boarding line (which on many BA flights seems to include almost all passengers) and replace it with a mobile/biometric line.

If we analyse the problem by breaking it down using our identity model, the three-domain model (3DID), we can see there are three separate problems that need to be solved using the technologically effectively:

  • identifying the person travelling (we need to bind a passport);
  • authenticating that the boarding pass is in the hand of the correct person; and
  • authorising the person with the boarding pass to go through the gate on to the plane.

The way to do this is, in my opinion, is to create a digital identity for the purposes of travelling (the travel ID) and to bind this identity to a mundane identity by linking it to a specific passport. Then British Airways can bind this identity to my Executive Club by creating a BA virtual identity, Delta can create a Delta identity and so on. Now, when I make a booking, the booking is connected to my BA ID.

That BA ID could, of course, contain either my face (in the form of a biometric template) or it could contain some other biometric that is optimised for speed and convenience at the airport. Finger vein, is a great example of a technology that has been around for ever and is tried and tested. You can’t take a picture of my finger vein when I’m walking down the road and then use it to pretend to be me, I have to walk up to a scanner and then physically insert my finger, thus consenting to the authentication.

That way, we could restructure the airport experience around technology instead of electronic simulations of paper. In this way, I can check in for the flight on my phone and then put my phone away. When I get to the airport, I go through security (at which point my face is checked against the passport photo in my BA ID) and then go to experience the Terminal 5 shopping experience. When it is time to board the plane, I put my finger into a scanner at the gate and off I go.

Consult Hyperion worked on a few projects looking at finger vein technology for UK banks a while ago – and it featured in our  Tomorrow’s Transactions blog back in 2007 because Hitachi and JCB were playing around with finger vein payments. If you’d like to know more about our model for identity (3DID) or would like to hear about our experiences with secure biometric technology, drop us a line info@chyp.com

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