The Future of Air Travel According to the International Air Transport Association & NEC
On March 3, 2020, Mr. Pierre Charbonneau, Director of Passenger Experience at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Mr. Benji Hutchinson, Vice President of Advanced Recognition Systems Division at NEC Corporation of America, met at the IATA headquarters in Montreal, Canada to discuss the future of air travel. The two executives discussed the challenges that airports and airlines increasingly face and addressed how the concept of “One ID” can help alleviate this issue. Biometrics, notably face recognition technology, was seen by both executives as a key technology to enable digital transformation in the aviation industry, and eventually the travel industry. Some of the key points discussed during the session include the following:
Today’s Airline Passenger Journey Is Too Fragmented
Mr. Charbonneau opened the conversation by pointing out that the airline passenger journey is too fragmented. “We force the customer to repeat the same steps in an airport by showing physical identification multiple times, and hence, passengers lack an integrated experience and have too many sources of information. Our surveys have shown that air passengers are happy when they are in control of their travel experience, and this is currently lacking in today’s airports,” said Mr. Charbonneau. He also noted that according to his research, about 75% of air passengers are content with their current air travel experience but believe there is still significant room for improvement.
The One ID Concept
Mr.Charbonneau explained that the IATA’s concept of One ID is the mechanism that will enable a seamless passenger journey from a facilitation standpoint. He envisions a future airport travel experience where digital information will largely replace the use of physical documents multiple times. Mr. Hutchinson agreed and highlighted the importance of biometric technology in the One ID concept. He explained that One ID “trades-off paper documents and digitally transforms one’s identity into a combination of biographic and biometric information. Basically, it creates a digital envelope that, with a passenger’s consent, can be used as an identity token and eventually for other commercial and personalized services.” He also noted that in the last 5 to 10 years biometric technology, notably facial recognition, has matured dramatically and is now “simpler, faster and more accurate, especially as Artificial Intelligence is incorporated.” With mass adoption and rising appeal, fingerprint and iris recognition technologies may also become important in a multi-modal environment.
NEC Supports the Air Passenger Experience with I:Delight
There is already some evidence that biometric services are seeing increased adoption. Mr. Hutchinson mentioned that NEC’s I:Delight concept, which will allow consenting passengers to enroll in the I:Delight platform and then use facial recognition in airports for functions such as check-in, bag drop and flight boarding. He believes this will significantly reduce the number of touchpoints in the airport and enhance operational efficiencies. Mr. Hutchinson also explained that one of I:Delight’s key strengths include its ability to scale and deliver a consistent experience within not just a single airport, but throughout an end-to-end journey. This integrated experience should include flight connections. As Mr. Charbonneau pointed out, it is important for air passengers to enjoy a consistent air travel journey, even when connecting. As evidence of the growing use and acceptance of biometrics in the aviation industry Mr. Hutchinson noted that there are currently 22 airports who are leveraging this technology in the United States alone and there is growing interest from other travel segments such as in the cruise ship industry for use at seaports.
Air Passengers are Ready to Embrace Digital Transformation
One ID services are not just for millennials, noted Mr. Charbonneau. His research shows that younger generations are accustomed to using smart devices, and therefore, mobile ticketing and other adjacent services comes naturally to them. His research also found that older generations are familiar with using a face as a Digital ID on physical documents, but they are accustomed to the frustrating paper-based air journey currently in use. Mr. Charbonneau also explained that passengers of all generations are faced with too much information at an airport. And, often times, this information is conflicting. For example, when a flight is delayed, the information presented on a mobile application, flight display, check-in counter and boarding gate might all be different. Passengers, no matter what age, want accurate and real-time flight information.
The Future of Air Travel
Overall, Mr. Hutchinson sees a new ecosystem emerging across the entire air travel experience, which will include government, consumer, aviation and beyond. He envisions a seamless air travel experience where a consenting passenger can check in from the comfort of their living room. He believes that such an ecosystem will emerge and develop as all stakeholders have incentives to embrace the concept of One ID. Governments want to ensure safety and security; passengers want a worry-free journey; and the aviation industry wants to keep customers happy. Mr. Charbonneau added that, to keep up with future air travel and the rising demand for air travel, the industry will either need to significantly increase the size of existing facilities, which would be very expensive, or embrace new technologies to improve efficiency. He also believes the ecosystem will develop naturally in time.
A Preview of the I:Delight Concept
Mr. Hutchinson shared an example of an NEC project that demonstrates what this future ecosystem may look like. In the beach resort of Nanki Shirahama in Japan, NEC has introduced facial recognition in the airport, as well as at adjacent businesses within the community. Not only can visitors enjoy a seamless airport experience, but they can use face recognition at adjacent businesses, such as spas and restaurants, without the need for both physical documents. In time, Mr. Hutchinson believes that other businesses, such as retail outlets, hotels and car rental businesses, will also join this ecosystem, creating a safe, secure and seamless travel experience.
Overall Mr. Charbonneau and Mr. Hutchinson agreed that today’s air travel experience is fraught with pain points for both air travelers and aviation operators and that the One ID concept offers a possible solution to solve this problem. They both envision a future where air passengers will enjoy a seamless curb-to-gate hassle free airport journey where biometric technology enables a walk-through experience and pointed several examples of early adopters. They also feel that airports will only be the beginning of One ID implementation and envision a future where the concept is expanded all across the travel ecosystem to include other forms of transportation, hotels, spas, restaurants and retail shopping to create a truly seamless travel experience.