Jon Payne, Director of Business Development and Strategic Alliances for identity verification at Entrust, outlines what technologies, including biometric authentication, will soon completely replace physical passport books and what airports can do today to prepare.


Security: What will the check-in experiences at airports and other points of travel in the future look like?

Payne: In the near future, check-in experiences could be done virtually, without the need for a physical passport, or in a hybrid manner that uses physical and digital elements at a minimum. Furthermore, one day it is likely that physical passport books will no longer be issued, and not only will check-in experiences be digital, but they will be nearly instant. Airports will be able to verify travelers’ identities by using facial recognition or similar biometrics, using the technology to match the travelers’ physical face to the face stored in the chip of their ePassports.


Security: What are the benefits of using biometric authentication in airports, and what does the process of biometric authentication look like in practice? 

Payne: Using biometrics in airports will make the check-in process faster and more secure. Instead of having to show a physical passport, travelers will be able to simply walk into an airport and walk through security as facial recognition software matches their face to their passport photo previously shared — with permission — to authenticate their identity. Users will be able to have their personal identity credentials (including biometric data) stored on their mobile devices, so they are ready to go upon arrival at the airport. This process will start at home, allowing travelers to check in using the virtual credentials stored on their mobile devices, simplifying and streamlining the in-airport process. This process will also consist of additional security since the biometric data will be tokenized, making it significantly more difficult for hackers to compromise.


Security: Are current e-passports the future of airport security, or are there better security technologies coming in the future?

Payne: People may think ePassports are the future of airport security, and while they have come a long way, better technology is coming. The ePassport is a passport with a chip in it that can store information and adds digital, cryptographic security to the physical passport book. In the future, digital travel credentials (DTCs) will replace ePassports and represent the simplest and most secure way to store identity information digitally.

DTCs use digital technology and biometrics to securely share a passenger’s identity verification information from their mobile device to travel service providers, which will instantly authenticate their identity. That digital identity can then be securely stored on a traveler’s phone and used for future trips. The biggest difference between DTCs and current ePassports is that DTCs will allow travelers to remotely assert their identity data, which they can’t do right now. DTCs will fundamentally change the way identity information is stored and shared for travel, making the process faster and more secure.


Security: How can security directors at ports of travel prepare today for digital-first experiences in the travel industry?

Payne: In order to be best prepared for digital-first experiences in the future, pilot programs are critical for security directors to start implementing today. The time is now to go beyond theorizing about these new technologies and start implementing programs to see what works, which creates greater opportunities for long-term success. These pilot programs are designed not only to test out new technologies like facial recognition but also help to ease consumers into a new age of digital identity, showing travelers the benefits of this new technology. Removing physical passports altogether — which is several years away — in favor of biometrics might be a shock for some travelers, so pilot programs help show what the future will look like so consumers can get used to it before the technology is widespread.

Some vendors are currently participating in a pilot program with train operator Eurostar in which passengers who take the train from the United Kingdom to European Union countries are required to use only their face to authenticate their identity and cross the border while their passport remains in their pocket. This is one example currently in practice of what the future could look like for airports. Simply put, the sooner security directors start implementing these pilot programs, the more willing the public will be to adopt this technology at different ports of travel.

Security: How will these new technologies make the airport security experience better compared to current processes?

Payne: New technologies like DTCs will create a far quicker, easier, and more seamless airport identity authentication experience than current processes. While TSA PreCheck and similar initiatives offer a faster lane for registered passengers, they don’t tend to accelerate the identification process itself. TSA Pre is a nice feature (that I use myself), but passengers currently identify themselves to TSA the same way as everyone else. The good news is that TSA is moving rapidly into the digital realm.

With DTCs, the actual identity authentication process is digitized, making it more efficient and secure for travelers. When DTCs are more widespread, the entire security check-in process at the airport will be a lot quicker for everyone. And this increase in speed and convenience will come with increased security since biometrics will be used for authentication.