Facial recognition has fast become an integral part of our existence. From Apple bringing this technology to the mainstream with the Face ID unlock feature in the iPhone X to every leading electronics player incorporating the feature in their own line up the smartphones and other gadgets, the journey of facial recognition into our everyday lives has been phenomenal. Now, it could soon pave way for passport-free travel. The use of facial recognition tech to revolutionise airport security, speed up departure process and make long queues and physical passports a thing of the past is being tested in the US, Australia and the UK.

passport-free-travel_1Passport-Free Travel? Facial Recognition Could Soon Make It A Reality
Image Source: Peter Greenberg

In the US, passport-free travel is being tested under the project named Biometric Exit that would rely on facial matching systems to identify visa holders leaving the country. Passengers would be required to have their photos clicked immediately before boarding and these will be matched with the photos provided along with the visa application. If the records reflect no match, it could indicate that the person is entering the country illegally. The facial recognition system to pave way for passport-free travel was first tested at the Dulles Airport in 2015 and was extended to New York’s JFK Airport the following year. In 2017, US-based Delta Airlines also initiated trials for implementing facial recognition to expedite the baggage check-in. Taking inspiration from its neighbour, Canada too set up face-reading kiosks for check-in to facilitate passport-free travel at the Ottawa International Airport.

In Australia, minister of home affairs Peter Dutton launched a project last year to overhaul the stringent visa system to incorporate facial recognition technology for supporting passport-free travel. The country has also begun testing the passport-free travel system with Australian citizens landing at the Canberra airport. To implement this overhaul, the Australian government will also collaborate with a tech company to put in place a system to seamlessly yet efficiently monitor visa applications for passport-free travel.

passport-free-travel_2Passport-Free Travel? Facial Recognition Could Soon Make It A Reality
Image Source: Wall Street Journal

The new automated system not only aims to facilitate passport-free travel but will also help in processing the huge volume of student and tourist visa applications to the country efficiently without consuming excess human resources and power.

The UK too is all set to bring-in passport-free travel to Heathrow Airport, the busiest in the country. With a view to reducing journey time by making check-in and immigration processes faster, facial recognition technology is being set up at several points on the departure terminals and these hubs are likely to become operational in this summer. The move could cut the transit time at Heathrow by a third.

Similarly, the new T4 terminal at the Changi Airport in Singapore has incorporated facial recognition systems at its automated immigration and boarding gates in an effort to enhance processing speeds, flag risks more efficiently and adopt a system of passport-free travel. At the Dubai International Airport, the aviation hub has invested in virtual video tunnels capable of scanning passengers’ faces on the go and alerting security of any red flags.

While some may argue that facial recognition at airports gives that creepy sense of ‘big brother watching’, it has the potential to change the future of travel beyond recognition, paving way for smooth, hassle-free journeys beyond borders.


A journalist by profession, a freelance writer by choice. When not writing, she likes to spend her time in company of books and food or hitting the road to explore new places, besides juggling roles as an army wife and mommy.

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