Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5A, airside, automated self-boarding gates, April 2017.

Heathrow is set to launch the airport’s first end-to-end biometrics trial bringing facial recognition to each point of the departing passenger’s journey in 2019.

The new technology will be a first for the UK’s only hub airport and will streamline the passenger journey through Heathrow from check-in to take-off – which could reduce the average passenger’s journey time by up to a third.

The new technology uses facial recognition at check-in, bag drops, security lanes and boarding gates to create a seamless experience for passengers travelling through the airport. The £50 million project is part of a wider programme of investment to streamline passenger journeys and once complete will mean that Heathrow will have the world’s largest deployment of biometric products. The long-term aim of the technology will be for passengers to be able to walk through the airport without breaking their stride.  Passengers have already been trialling the new services in the live operation throughout 2018 and feedback has been tremendously positive.

Currently, manual authentication means that passengers need to present different forms of ID such as boarding cards, booking reference numbers as well as their passports to different agents to show that they’re authorised to travel. By offering passengers the option to use more instant facial recognition technology they will have the choice to streamline that process and collectively significantly reduce the amount of paper used when flying.

IATA research shows that 64% of passengers would choose to share their biometric data in exchange for a better experience when travelling. Facial biometrics are more accurate than manual checks and offer increased security, demonstrating how technology helps us without impacting on passenger experience.

Heathrow has already begun using facial recognition in some stages of the passenger journey, both on entry to the UK at the Border with the biometric e-gates. The technology is also used for domestic journeys through the airport, but this will be the first time that Heathrow will use the technology at every stage of the departing passenger’s journey. This has the potential to allow for greater personalisation of passenger services, useful for passengers requiring additional assistance.