By Benjamin D Katz
Emirates is introducing facial recognition technology to shorten passengers’ waits at immigration and check-in counters, a move that comes as the U.S. revives a ban that could complicate air travel from the Middle East.
Passengers will be able to upload biometric details such as ‘selfies’ to their smartphones, and use the data to scan through boarding gates and other checkpoints at Emirates’ Dubai hub, the carrier said in a statement. The technology, which will be rolled out over the next 18 months, will also facilitate access to immigration counters at airports.
Emirates’ announcement comes as travel from the Middle East becomes more onerous and the region’s carriers struggle with some of the toughest business conditions in decades. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court partially reinstated a ban denying entry to people from six predominantly Muslim countries. In March, the U.S. and U.K. barred laptops and other electronic gadgets onboard flights from certain Mideast airports, a move that has weighed on demand at the Gulf airlines.
Despite the challenges, Emirates’ main Dubai hub has been struggling with overcrowding, prompting the company to seek ways to process passengers more quickly.
European and U.S. carriers are also increasingly using facial recognition and biometric security to streamline check-in and boarding at airports — still the most arduous part of airborne travel. Airlines including British Airways, KLM, JetBlue Airways Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. have rolled out or are experimenting with the technology.
Emirates is additionally exploring how it can use augmented reality and smartglasses at airports and onboard flights to improve customer service, Emirates Chief Digital and Innovation Officer Christoph Mueller said this month. Mueller was appointed last year to help modernize the world’s biggest long-haul airline and better integrate digital processes into its operations.