Tokyo Narita Airport Begins Trialing Facial Recognition Boarding

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On Tuesday, Tokyo Narita Airport began trialing the use of facial recognition for international travelers. When rolled out in July, the system known as Face Express will allow passengers to register their passport and boarding pass at a self-check-in machine. The machine will take a photo, scanning facial features, which will then serve as documentation throughout the terminal.

Tokyo Narita Airport today began trialing its new facial recognition system known as Face Express. Photo: Getty Images

New normal procedures

The airport is calling the move to the biometric process ‘new normal procedures with contactless tech’.  The facial recognition technology is meant to reduce waiting times at bag drop and security checkpoints, as well as speed up the boarding process.

It will also mean less physical contact and touchpoints between ground staff, passengers, and self-service machines. Meanwhile, the trial itself only involves airport staff and not actual passengers, the Mainichi reports.

To begin with, Face Express will only be available for passengers traveling with All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines. However, the airport says it is intended to extend to other carriers gradually. The system will roll out in July and will also be implemented at Tokyo Haneda.

One of the main concerns over biometric boarding is that of privacy and data ownership. Narita Airport says that the passenger details, including photos and facial data, will only be stored for 24 hours after travel when they will be automatically deleted.

The biometric system means travelers will no longer need to show identification or boarding passes at bag drop, security, or boarding. Photo: Getty Images

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Personalized travel information the future?

Narita and Haneda’s Face Express system is provided by the NEC Corporation, which offers advanced biometric authentication technologies. It claims to feature the world’s most accurate precision for facial recognition.

The company has technology that will not only allow passengers to embark without fishing for their boarding pass or phone but also receive personalized travel information, such as gate location, on monitors throughout the terminal.

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The idea of getting rid of bottlenecks around terminals and speeding up boarding was always an attractive proposition for biometrics. However, the need for a more contactless travel experience has proved an incentive to speed up adoption and reboot customer confidence.

The system will serve to streamline the terminal experience and minimize contact between staff and passengers. Photo: NEC Corporation

Contactless key to customer confidence?

Biometrics is set to be an important element as travel redesigns itself to a post-crisis world with, as Narita Airport describes it – new normal procedures. Airports across the US such as San Francisco, Orlando, and Dallas-Fort Worth are already offering the technology for international travelers. United and Delta are also conducting trials to expand facial recognition for domestic passengers in San Francisco and Detroit respectively.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Iberia has begun biometric testing in Madrid, and Dubai Airports has introduced facial recognition to speed up the immigration processes. Just as the smartphone did away with the need for a paper ticket, facial recognition and biometrics may well do away with the electronic boarding pass. Quite probably, with the additional information on vaccination status.

What are your thoughts on biometric data for airports and airlines? Is it a great tool to streamline the travel experience, or does it entail too great a risk with personal data? Let us know how you feel in the comment section below. 

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