Why air travel will never be the same again

Airlines are lapping up the latest in touch-free technology to entice passengers back into the air. Carolynne Dear takes a look at the new era of air travel.

PPE and touch-free - airports are embracing the latest technology to improve passenger safety.


Qatar Airways announced this week that it has become the first global airline to offer passengers 100% touch-free in-flight entertainment technology.


According to the carrier, passengers will soon be able to access its Oryx One in-flight entertainment system via their personal device simply by scanning a QR code, as well as pairing their Bluetooth headphones with the seat-back system. Qatar says it is the first carrier in both Europe and the Middle East to offer such a Bluetooth solution.


In seems that following a frightening twelve months for the airline industry, touch-free technology is being rolled out by airports and carriers at warp speed in a bid to beat coronavirus and entice passengers back into the air.

Hong Kong Airport has recently launched facial recognition technology at its security and boarding gates.


In January, Hong Kong Airport announced the launch of 'e-Boarding Gates' to enable a “touchless and seamless departure journey”.


The gates are set to be introduced in stages, with gates ten to 36 in T1 ready earlier last month. Hong Kong is one of the first airports in the world to introduce touch-free boarding at all frontal gates.


Both 'e-Security' and 'e-Boarding' Gates use biometric technology - passengers simply scan their documents and then their faces at the e-Security Gates and can then simply walk through the e-Boarding Gates without having to show their paperwork again. (It's slick, although it's worth pointing out that facial recognition is hampered somewhat by the current regulations that require the wearing of face masks throughout the airport, which have to be removed in order for the technology to work).


It’s hoped that touch-free technology will shorten boarding times and E-Security Gates have also been installed in the passenger transit areas of the airport to speed up document checking.

Perspex screens and iris recognition have been embraced at Singapore's Changi Airport.


Meanwhile, Singapore’s Changi Airport has opted for a mixture of facial and iris recognition to replace fingerprint scanning. Introduced last summer, the new technology is now the primary biometric identifier as passengers pass through immigration.


In departure halls, Changi’s automated kiosks use proximity sensors so travellers don’t have to touch electronic screens to check-in or drop their bags. The infrared sensors mean users simply have to point at the screen without actually touching it.


“Passengers will expect airports to deliver the highest standards of safety and hygiene to give them peace of mind during their journey,” said Tan Lye Teck, Changi Airport Group’s (CAG) executive vice president for Airport Management. “CAG will work with other aviation partners to instill a high sense of confidence among travellers going through Changi Airport when air travel eventually resumes.”


Last autumn, Emirates boldly announced that passengers were able to pass through Dubai International Airport with almost zero human interaction.


The carrier launched an ‘integrated biometric path’ using a mix of iris and facial technology for check-in, immigration, lounge access and boarding. This effectively means that passengers can stroll their way through the airport, unimpeded.


Immigration gates feature a ‘smart tunnel’, a world-first project resulting from a collaboration between the General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai and Emirates. Passengers simply walk through the tunnel and can be ‘cleared’ by immigration authorities without the need for human interaction or a passport stamp.


The airline has also introduced self-check-in and bag drop kiosks to reduce human contact points.


“It’s more vital than ever to make use of technology and implement products and introduce processes that focus not only on fast-tracking customers, but more importantly on health and safety during their travel journey,” said Emirates’ chief operating officer Adel Al Redha.


Qatar Airways group chief executive Akbar Al Baker echoed these sentiments at the launch of Qatar's contactless in-flight entertainment system this week. “We hope it provides yet further assurance of the safety of air travel, as well as offering passengers on board increased confidence that they are enjoying the most consistently advanced customer experience available in the sky,” he said.


Or, in the words of MC Hammer, “U can’t touch this”.


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