The days of fumbling for passports and boarding passes may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to recent advancements in digital identity technology. These developments are laying the foundation for a seamless and secure travel experience, from the moment you start your journey to its conclusion.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has taken a significant step forward in this direction by successfully testing a fully integrated digital identity travel experience as part of its OneID initiative. While there’s still work to be done in aligning technology and policy, this marks the beginning of a passport and boarding pass-free future.
IATA OneID Trials IATA recently conducted trials in collaboration with industry partners to create a fully integrated digital identity travel experience. Key players in the OneID initiative include Accenture, Amadeus, AWS, British Airways, Branchspace, IDnow, Turkish Airlines, Trip.com, SICPA, and Verchaska.
The first comprehensive OneID trial involved a journey on British Airways from London Heathrow to Rome Fiumicino. This successful contactless trip showcased the potential passenger benefits of digital identity and biometric technology.
Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety, and Security, stated, “Our vision for future travel is fully digital and secured with biometric identification. While the technology exists to do this at each stage of a journey, linking these steps together has proven challenging. We showed that it is possible. This will open up a world of possibilities for simpler journeys in the future.”
The use of biometric data, such as digital passport information and other required details, allows airlines to offer passengers a contactless experience. This innovation streamlines processes like seat assignments and check-in, reducing the reliance on traditional boarding passes. Travelers can move through security lines, lounges, and aircraft using biometrics. Surveys conducted by IATA and others indicate growing customer interest in digital solutions and biometric identity verification, particularly during boarding and security checks.
IATA’s passenger survey found an increasing confidence in biometric identification, with 46% of passengers using biometrics at the airport in the last year, up from 34% in 2022. Furthermore, 75% of passengers prefer using biometric data over traditional passports and boarding passes, with a reported 85% satisfaction rate among those who have used biometric identification during their travels.
Effortless Travel Requirements Check Digital passports stored in a traveler’s digital wallet play a crucial role in simplifying travel requirements. Passengers can conveniently verify their travel document requirements by sharing their nationality data. IATA’s Timatic solution supports this process, allowing travelers to prepare for their journey well before reaching the airport.
Alaska Airlines’ Mobile Verify Program Alaska Airlines has recently streamlined passport verification with its Mobile Verify program. The airline partnered with Airside, a product of Onfido, to support this process. Passengers can digitally confirm their passports on their smartphones before heading to the airport. At the airport, they can use this digital verification to clear passport controls for international flights. The goal, according to Charu Jain, senior vice president of innovation and merchandising at Alaska Airlines, is to get passengers through the lobby in five minutes or less.
Global Transformation and Interoperability A secure digital identity and biometric technology are key to achieving a future without passports and boarding passes. However, this transformation relies on industry-wide collaboration and adherence to global standards, a task that IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization are actively working on. Achieving seamless travel also hinges on governments implementing policies that support digital alternatives, such as using e-visas to pre-screen passengers before arrival.
IATA’s survey revealed that visa requirements in different countries discourage 36% of potential travelers. The visa application process prevents 49% of prospective travelers from embarking on trips, with 66% expressing a preference for applying for visas online. An overwhelming 87% of travelers are willing to share immigration information to simplify the arrival process. Streamlining visa requirements has the potential to boost tourism revenues for destination economies.
Finland recently launched the world’s first digital travel document pilot program at Helsinki Airport. Known as DTC, the program allows passengers on Finnair flights to selected destinations to bypass border control queues while maintaining security. At present, only Finnish citizens can use the DTC program.
Interoperability is the ultimate goal for those working toward a seamless travel future. Achieving this requires harmonized standards and policies among stakeholders and governments.
Ensuring Privacy Is Essential In this digital travel revolution, privacy remains a top priority. Travelers want to maintain control over their data and ensure that travel stakeholders access their information only on a need-to-know basis. IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, emphasized that travelers are “very concerned about the security of their information” and that “they want to know how the information has been shared and how long it’s being stored.”
The partners involved in the OneID initiative are working diligently to guarantee the level of personal data security that travelers demand.
The future of air travel is increasingly digital and seamless. With innovations like digital passports, biometric technology, and integrated digital identity, travelers can anticipate hassle-free and secure journeys. As the airline industry continues to adopt technology and establish standards, passport and boarding-pass-free flights are becoming more common for travelers worldwide. While manual processes will still be available for those who find biometric identity verification discomforting, it’s possible that paper passports will follow the path of airline-printed tickets in the coming decade or so.
By Impact Lab