Nuances of Traveling Identification Caused by the Pandemic

December 1, 2020
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With the holiday season in full swing, many are traveling to spend it with family and friends – despite the continued rise in COVID-19 cases. This trend led OWI to analyze how COVID-driven individual identity initiatives have changed the identification processes for air travel passengers and what the lasting effect on the travel industry may be. 


Covid Takes a Toll


The travel industry is one of the areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a significantly lower number of travelers due to travel restrictions and general fear of overexposure to the virus. During the Monday and Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday week, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 1 million people, which was the highest number since March 16 and 40 percent lower than the number of travelers during last year’s Thanksgiving. 


To travel safely, travelers should aim to minimize contact between different parties and the time spent in crowds. Travelers need to exchange information when they check-in, go through security, enter lounges, and purchase items inside the airport. Implementing a holistic digital identity for travelers, airlines, airport operators, and government agencies can make the journey more seamless, efficient, and secure.


Digital Identity Takes Flight 


The first implementation of a digital identity solution for travelers was electronic boarding passes, which have been successful due to the high adoption of mobile phones. An IATA study showed that 74 percent of passengers in 2017 used an electronic boarding pass on a smartphone. Furthermore, over the past years, there has been an increase in self-check-in solutions, minimizing interactions between travelers. By utilizing each of these solutions, travelers can have a check-in and pre-flight experience that’s nearly contact-free. 


The second implementation of digital identity, which has not yet been widely adopted, is a digital ID. While travelers can use their mobile phones for their boarding passes, they must use a physical form of ID to verify their identity.


Eighty-two percent of respondents in the same IATA study stated that they would be willing to use a digital passport in lieu of their current paper passport. 


The Need for Speed, Safety & Spending


Before the pandemic, TSA serviced over 2.5 million travelers each day on average, and roughly 600 people were found without an acceptable form of ID. While manual checks are currently leveraged, this method can result in human error in an area that needs to provide the highest security possible. With a holistic digital identity solution, travelers can have a more seamless experience.


The first digital identity solution for airport security was implemented by CLEAR, which provides identity verification and security checks with the implementation of their proprietary machines. Currently, there are other digital identity solutions in testing, such as the one provided by Lufthansa, which allows travelers to enroll their biometrics in an app and create a digital identity. With this app, travelers can pass through security checkpoints and boarding gates without removing their masks, creating a safe experience.


American Airlines, Delta, and IDEMIA are also working to implement an interoperable biometric identity and identification platform for travelers. In collaboration with the TSA, Delta launched a new biometric identification program for domestic travelers that matches facial recognition with a digital ID using the traveler’s passport number and TSA PreCheck membership. American Airlines is trying to implement a Digital ID with the collaboration of Airside. Both initiatives are currently being put in specific locations and are available to travelers who create an account registering their biometrics and face-ID. In addition, IATA announced the development of a health passport called “Travel Pass”, for travelers to record their PCR test results for countries require this information for entry.


Lastly, using both a digital identity and a digital boarding pass provides a seamless experience and reduces friction. Going through the TSA security lines at airports can be a burden for travelers as these lines are usually long, slow, and crowded. The average wait time for standard lanes is 30 minutes, according to TSA. These long wait times not only negatively affect travelers but also result in lost revenue for airports.


A study by NEC showed that an extra 10 minutes in security reduces average passenger retail spending in US airports by 30 percent.


Considering that customers need to verify themselves when purchasing items at the airport or entering lounges, the actual percentage could be even higher. These digital identity initiatives can reduce the amount of time that travelers are exposed to large crowds and maximize passenger retail spending. 


The OWI Analyst Take


The advent of COVID-19 has encouraged governments and private entities to push forward biometric-based digital identity products that consumers can leverage for frictionless travel. These are incredibly nascent — emerging just over the past few months and set to launch into the future — but OWI believes this to indicate an intersection between the growing ubiquity of mobile identity across all verticals, as well as the growth in enterprise adoption of different authentication modalities


Furthermore, OWI anticipates that as this trend persists — namely, as travelers digitize more and more of their touchpoints across the travel lifecycle — airports and airlines might benefit immensely from an ability to aggregate and analyze these new data trails, including improved machine learning capabilities for Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) channels

jennie (24)

Victor Appelqvist

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