Monday 21 October 2019

The face of future travel with latest biometrics technology

Shannon became the first airport in Europe to use facial recognition for US pre-clearance
Shannon became the first airport in Europe to use facial recognition for US pre-clearance

Business Travel: Mark Evans

Airports tend to be the worst choke points for business travellers, but technology is evolving fast to speed up the journey.

A new survey by Sita, a tech company in the aviation field, has revealed that just over three-quarters of airports and 71pc of airlines (including JetBlue and British Airways) are planning to identify travellers using facial recognition or other biometric data, or are researching the area.

Later this year, Delta Air Lines, in partnership with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is launching the US's first biometric terminal at Terminal F in Atlanta. Under the new system customers flying direct to an international destination can opt to use facial recognition technology - which verifies passengers by matching them to the documents they are presenting - from arrival at the airport right to the gate. "Based on initial testing, the facial recognition option not only saves up to nine minutes per flight, but provides employees an opportunity to have more meaningful interactions with customers throughout the journey," claims Gil West, Delta's COO.

Meanwhile, passengers travelling on partner airlines such as Aeromexico, Air France-KLM or Virgin Atlantic Airways out of Terminal F are eligible to use this technology too

Elsewhere, British Airways has expanded trials of its biometric boarding and arrivals technology at LAX, Orlando, Miami and JFK.It's also been trialled at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Under the trial, passengers have registered to opt-in using kiosks at the airport. It involves scanning passport, boarding pass, and the passenger's face.

But the technology is closer to home too. Shannon Airport is the first airport in Europe to have facial recognition technology introduced for US pre-clearance, which is designed to speed up screening times.

It's the latest innovation in the airport, which back in 2009 became Ireland's first to get pre-clearance, and seven years later became the first airport in the world to operate a combined EU and US TSA checkpoint systems, which it said has halved the time spent in security screening compared to other pre-clearance airports.

Shannon told this column that airports in the US are now processing up to 10 people a minute with the new system, which is a considerable leap on the current waiting times.

Shannon Airport managing director Andrew Murphy argues that "we have the most efficient and reliable systems in place for passenger screening for the US", and expects the system to become more commonplace in the near future.

n While big players like Dalata and Tifco dominate the headlines, smaller operators are aiming to capture a slice of the corporate market too.

The family-owned Johnstown Estate, which has just finished a €10m makeover programme following a change of ownership, has upped its game in the meetings and incentives market.

Echoing comments made recently to this column by Dalata CEO Pat McCann, Johnstown general manager Anthony Smiddy says that while leisure is the focus at weekends in particular, "our really big push is to drive the meetings and incentives component".

The hotel is playing on its location, 35 minutes outside Dublin city centre and handy for the airport, with a new conference centre offering plus eight private meeting rooms. Working with travel management companies and convention planners, many of its big clients are in the sporting field, drawn by its training facilities on the 128-acre estate. They include IRFU, FAI and GAA teams, and most recently the Limerick hurlers en route to their All Ireland victory.

"Our turnover has gone from €7.2m in 2016, and this year we're probably going to hit €10m. Of that probably €3.5m is coming from our rooms and food/beverage €4m, while spa and leisure brings it up to €10m," says Smiddy

He adds that being a standalone property has its advantages, with decisions made quickly and locally, without having to revert to head office, adding: "Although we're not branded, all our team come from branded properties - Marriott, Conrad, K club, Luttrellstown Castle and Radisson."

The push for the all-week market means a drive for bums and seats - with a €40 per delegate day-rate for the month of November, including meeting room hire, equipment and meals including regular tea and coffee breaks and working soup-and-sandwich lunch. The offer applies to first-time bookings and needs a minimum of 35 delegates.

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