Passengers give biometric technology high marks.

Hong Kong International Airport terminal SITA passenger study
Credit: Getty Images

The most recent passenger survey published by air transport technology company SITA found that the majority of passengers now want to use biometrics for identification.

Those who have already used this technology — even those who are conscious of privacy issues — are happy with their experience.

In all, 37 percent of travelers who participated in the SITA survey had used automated ID control at some point during their last flight; 55 percent of those had used biometrics at departure security, 33 percent for boarding, and 12 percent for international arrivals.

Those who have used facial recognition or fingerprint IDs give biometrics a big thumbs up. They rated their satisfaction at 8.4 out of 10, which is higher than passenger ratings for personal service during passport checks (8/10) and boarding (8.2/10). The majority (57 percent) said they would use biometrics again on their next trip.

In general, technology addresses travelers' needs better than people do. SITA found that travelers who use technology along the journey are significantly happier than those who travel analogue.

SITA passenger study
Credit: Courtesy of SITA

“Passengers are increasingly comfortable with the use of technology in their everyday lives, and they are demanding more services as they appreciate the benefits technology can bring to their journey,” said Ilya Gutlin, president of air travel solutions at SITA. “Airports and airlines can take note that technology solutions can boost passenger satisfaction every step of the way.”

Self-service In, Airline Apps Out

Most air travelers want to take control of the journey by using self-service technology: SITA found that most (87 percent) passengers now book their own flights using websites or apps. The majority (54 percent) use self-service check-in technology, and 92 percent of those are happy with the process.

However, airline apps have lost some luster with passengers this year.

Only 7 percent of passengers surveyed said they use apps to book flights compared to the 16.5 percent who said they did so last year. Check-in by app is falling out of favor too with only 5 percent of passengers doing so compared to 12 percent last year. This downturn doesn’t necessarily herald the end of airline apps.

“I don’t think that we’re moving away from airline apps all together,” Gutlin explained. “You’re not going to have five to ten airline apps on your phone, but you’ll likely have an app for hometown airlines and airports.”

Gutlin points out that both airlines and airports have invested heavily to improve their web presence in recent years with mobile web experience matching the mobile app. Basically, passengers are really comfortable using browser-based services now that the design has improved. Airlines have also added new mobile channels where passengers can reach them, ranging from social media to chatbots.

SITA passenger study
Credit: Courtesy of SITA

But Gutlin still believes that airlines and airports will want to invest in apps offering passengers services they value, like baggage tracking updates. A majority (64 percent) of survey participants said they would definitely use real-time bag tracking if airlines offered it.

Some points along the journey are proving somewhat resistant to self-service adoption. Though the majority of travelers (54 percent) are now checking-in for their flights using tech, only 18 percent are using automated bag drop services.

In large part, that’s because automated bag drops are not available everywhere. Airlines which offer self-service check-in may still require passengers to stand in line to drop off their bags at certain airports, which somewhat defeats the purpose. That will be changing quickly.

“We’ve seen a lot of requests for proposals for bag drops over the past 18 months,” Gutlin said. “If we look at 18 percent [of passengers using bag drops] we’re still nowhere near where we should be. But what we do find is that people who use this technology are more satisfied than people who don’t.”

Improving passenger experience has ranked as the number one reason for adopting technology in the company’s airlines and airports survey over the past two years, Gutlin added. So they are motivated to install more automated bag drop machines.

Biometrics will be growing rapidly too, at least in part because it makes passengers happy.

“I feel that I’ve lived through this before with self-service kiosks and bag drop, where you see small trials and all of a sudden the technology and the process come of age,” Gutlin said. “I do think that biometric technology is coming of age. Especially for Millennials who are willing to forego privacy concerns for ease of use and seamless travel.”

Even if you figure that your life is an open book online already, and you have no privacy left to care about, don’t expect your face to become your only travel document yet.

Governments still have to figure out how they want to use the technology and whether they want to share citizen biometric information.

We will see more facial recognition and fingerprint scanners at border and security controls and at boarding gates, but we’ll still need to renew our paper passport — at least a couple more times.