In April this year, British Airways became the first airline in the UK to implement automated biometric technology throughout London Heathrow Terminal 5 with the launch of self-service boarding gates. I know what you’re thinking; it is yet another piece of technology which is taking over a manual process – but I think it is actually a good move for the passenger experience. #PaxEx.
There are currently several gates within the main building aka the “A Gates” at Terminal 5 which feature the self-service boarding gates. There are three “e-gates” at each gate, if that makes sense. At present, these are only used on domestic flights, however both British Airways and Heathrow Airport have hinted they might roll out the feature to European and International flights in the future.
At the end of April I flew from London to Manchester from Terminal 5 and as luck would have it, I had the opportunity to pass through one of the self-service boarding gates. So here is my experience of using it!
How does it work?
On domestic flights, customers do not need a passport. You may be asked to show some form of identification when checking in a bag, but nothing else is required. When you present your boarding pass as you travel through security, a digital scan of the your face is taken. When you get to the gate and go to board the aircraft, your face is matched with the representation which was recorded earlier when you scan your boarding pass. This then opens the gates and enables you to pass through and walk down the jetty and onto the aircraft.
How long does it take?
When I flew to Manchester, it took me three seconds to scan my boarding pass, look into the camera and for the gates to open. In the background, the system matched my face to the photograph which was taken earlier and boarded me onto the flight. For a mere three seconds this was very impressive. So much so that I tweeted BA and Heathrow Airport to say I was impressed.
How does it differ from the previous process?
Previously one agent would have to check the biometrics and then manually board you onto the flight yourself. Depending on each individual passenger, this could take a lot of time. At London Gatwick, a representative from the security team is the first person you see who checks the photograph which can take up to 30-seconds each time. You then have to present your boarding pass again to a member of airline staff who will then board you into the system. If there is only one biometric device at each gate you can only imagine how long this must take and frustrating it is for everyone. Whereas, if a passengers’ biometrics can be verified whilst they are simultaneously boarded in the system; it increases efficiency.
Why is this good for #PaxEx?
For the passenger experience, this is great news. The self-service boarding gates allows for customers to be boarded in a matter of seconds which can help to alleviate congestion around the gate area. Additionally the use of the self-service gates frees up members of the gate team to focus on other areas of the boarding process. Whether this is resolving issues such as seat changes, boarding customers with reduced mobility, infants, checking hand baggage and providing a higher level of customer service. Of course the gate team are also available to resolve any issues which may crop up when using the self-service boarding gates. Again from my observations it only took a staff member about twenty-seconds to resolve an issue – not bad at all.
Looking to the future
Using these gates on European and eventually International flights does sound a little daunting at first; but over time we can expect this to be the norm. Technology and innovation is a wonderful thing when it works, and it is good to know that airlines can always revert to a fallback process if things go wrong.
We already have self-service facilities at check-in, bag-drop and now the gates. Whatever is next?!?
What are your thoughts on self-service boarding gates?