Low-touch travel the new norm

The pandemic represents 'a new 9/11 moment for air travel', says SITA boss

Biometric boarding will unlock seamless travel. Credit: SITA/NEC Corp.
Biometric boarding will unlock seamless travel. Credit: SITA/NEC Corp.

SINGAPORE — Adopt the brace position, the airport experience — from arrival to departure — is about to enter a new era.

Look but don’t touch will be the new mantra for travellers as airports scramble to adopt frictionless systems to restore confidence among passengers whose journeys have been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic represents a new 9/11 moment for air travel and how we respond will define our industry for decades to come,” says Barbara Dalibard CEO of travel technology provider, SITA.

Touchless bag-tagging and digital boarding pass stamps at security are just some of the examples of minimising the need for passengers to touch airport infrastructure or physically contact staff.

“We need a focus shift from immediate actions like masks and hand sanitizers to longer-term and more sustainable solutions,” Ms Dalibard adds.

A global partnership between SITA and Japan’s NEC Corporation will further unlock the potential of seamless next-generation passenger processing solutions, enabling passengers to use their biometric identity to check-in, make payments, drop their bag, as well as pass through security, immigration and boarding by simply scanning their face at each step.

SITA says travel authorisation, bag-drop and check-in can be facilitated away from the airport to reduce passenger queuing and to enable more social distancing. Passengers will arrive checked in and ‘ready to fly.”

Biometrics are capable of enrolling and then recognising faces with masks on and passengers will be able to use their mobile as ‘a remote control for travel’.

Changi is among airports worldwide that have been working on a series of measures in preparation for when air travel resumes.

At the airport’s automated kiosks, proximity sensors are being installed progressively to eliminate the need for travellers to touch the electronic screens when they check in or drop off their bags.

Infrared sensors will enable passengers to select options and key in their travel details by pointing their finger close to the screen without touching it, while upgraded automated immigration lanes have been fitted with a biometric system that uses face and iris recognition technology as the primary means for identity verification. The system replaces fingerprint scanning.

Tan Lye Teck, Changi Airport Group’s executive vice president for airport management said, “We will rapidly bring on board new measures as we go into a new normal for air travel.”

And as Frank Trampert, managing director & chief commercial officer, EMEA & APAC for Sabre Hospitality Solutions, noted this week, when travel resumes, “the new currency for loyalty will be trust”.

This article first appeared on Travel Weekly Asia