people sitting in a terminal

But you definitely will, wherever you go. So bring it anyway.

The future is here, it’s freaky, but it’s got benefits too.

Heathrow Airport has announced that from this summer, passengers will be able to pass through the airport “without breaking a stride”, and that includes no need to whip out a passport or boarding pass either. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but not quite as much as you’d expect.

people sitting in a terminalFull On Biometrics

Biometrics are the futuristic technology which you’ve likely already experienced, whether you realised it at the time, or not. Essentially, your picture is taken at every choke point of the airport experience, like check in, passing through security and then finally, at boarding. This data is stored and shared to validate that you are you, and it’s what’s enabled e-gates for immigration. Just smile.

It’s more secure than manual checks.

If you’re wondering “why” bother, that’s an easy one to explain. Biometric boarding has been proven to speed the cumbersome process up by as much as 3x. In fact, a 509 passenger A380 was boarded in just 18 minutes using the technology. If the same is applied to each point of airport contact, the bustling spaces could one day be revered as peaceful places to pass time. Both British Airways and Lufthansa have been early adaptors of biometric technology.

Heathrow is aiming to take things a step further.

Invalid request error occurred.How It Will Work

Once a passenger has passed through the airport once and their passport has been scanned, all subsequent visits will be seamless. After that initial visit you’ll be able to arrive at the check in desks and check in with nothing but a smile, while looking at an oddly shaped camera stick. The same process will carry on through airport security and finally when it’s time to board.

Yep, once you’ve travelled once, you should *in theory* be able to just breeze through the airport without speaking to a soul or reaching into your pocket, except of course to buy duty free or check your messages.

So Many Questions

Naturally, there are so many questions here. The first of which: but what about your passport? The answer is that you still need your passport and you absolutely cannot arrive at the airport without it. You just may not need to flash it at Heathrow. Without a doubt, you’ll need it when you arrive at your destination, and if you don’t have it, you’ll be on your way back to Heathrow in no time.

The next question: maintaining order. Passengers struggle to stand in the correct boarding zone or lane when they have a printed card with block lettering, so the idea of no need for a physical boarding pass is a bit daunting. In practice, it’s likely that many passengers would still carry a mobile boarding card on their phone, or have one printed at check in. Airlines will have final say here.

If things aren’t done right, it will be a great new trick for everyone to claim priority boarding.

a teddy bear on a floating mattress in a poolDates And Limitations

Like all major announcements, there are caveats as well. According to Heathrow, this new £50m system won’t work for everyone initially. Those without “chip” enabled e-passports are likely the first group to be excluded. Those requiring visa checks, or even simple checks such as an ESTA could also be excluded. Basically, the future is near, but it might not be firing on all cylinders – yet.

A specific date has yet to be specified by Heathrow, but the term “summer” is being widely used, as quoted by The Times. Expect late May or early June to see this digital revolution take over. And yes, you are allowed to opt out.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. A lovely idea but you’ll still have to remove virtually everything from your entire bag and strip down to your pants at security which is the undoubtably the worst part of airport experience in my opinion (except when BA do dreaded ‘bus boarding’) – flashing your passpor/bp is nothing in relation

  2. This is purely about speeding up boarding, and nothing else. At Heathrow, you only show your passport twice – once at check-in, and once at the boarding gate. Not at security, or anywhere else (unless you’re selected for enhanced screening on a US-bound flight, in which case they’re going to want to see your passport no matter what biometrics the airport has put in place). Even if they do away with the need to scan your boarding pass at security, the face scanning part will still take just as long – I’d be very surprised if you can just walk straight through the security gate line “without breaking a stride”, as the article puts it. And won’t the airline want to make sure you definitely have your passport with you before you board the aircraft? If you can get on board without showing a passport, then you can be sure that there *will* be the occasional passenger who arrives at their foreign destination without it, and then it’s the airline who will be in trouble.

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