Airport Show
13 - 15 May 2025

Airport Innovation Spotlight: Advance self-service and biometrics

Last month we looked at how robotics continues to make air travel easier for passengers, while this month we examine how they are actively making it easier for themselves. By enabling and encouraging advanced self-service options, airlines and airports are directly inviting customers to get involved in speeding up and simplifying their journeys.

Overly involved interactions between airport staff and passengers have long been a headache for both parties. Long queues, miscommunication and mistakes all lead to delays and frustration. This is why the push for self-service in advance is accelerating, even more so now that limiting physical interactions at the airport has been made that much more important by COVID. When done correctly, self-service lets passengers check in before they reach the airport, SSBD (self-service bag drop) then lets them print their bag tags and load baggage into the system themselves. This offers passengers less queuing, greater safety (as crowds do not congregate in lines for so long) and greater convenience and control. 

The advance of biometrics in airports works hand-in-glove with self-service technologies, as it allows for even faster processing of passengers through security and boarding, while further minimising physical contact with staff.

Emirates Airline is leading the way in global aviation biometrics adoption to deliver a contactless airport experience and restore passenger confidence. In October 2020, the airline launched an integrated biometric path at the airport open to Emirates passengers travelling from and through Dubai. The technology helps deliver a seamless travel journey for passengers and improves customer flow through the airport with less document checks and queuing. The experience adopted the latest biometric technology, using both facial and iris recognition, allowing passengers to check in, complete immigration formalities, enter the Emirates Lounge and board their flights with minimal human interaction and emphasising health and safety.

In April 2020, Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, announced that it would partner with Australian company Elenium Automation to trial new technology which allows self-service devices at airports to be used to help identify travellers with medical conditions, potentially including the early stages of COVID-19. In November, Etihad also teamed up with information technology company Sita to trial the use of facial biometrics to check in cabin crew at the airlines Crew Briefing Centre at Abu Dhabi International Airport, allowing crew to complete check-in procedures and mandatory pre-flight safety and security questions digitally via their own mobile devices. The trial is expected to continue until February 2021 and will provide the airline with invaluable data to explore future adoption of biometric technology for use in guest operations, such as check-in and boarding.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) is another prominent example of the heightened importance of self-service and biometrics in 2021. HIA has become one of the world’s first airports to pioneer a wholly contactless airport experience. Passengers’ flight, passport and facial biometric information are all combined into a ‘single travel token’ used at the self‑check-in kiosk. This means that passengers only have to show their face at key airport touchpoints, such as the self-service bag drop, pre-immigration and the self-boarding gate.

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