i3 | November 18, 2019

The Future of Travel

Natalie Hope McDonald

Passengers flying into Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport are often surprised to discover that the busy hub is a testing ground for the latest in biometric technology. In fact, the country’s first-ever facial recognition terminal is now being operated here.

This means that passengers flying direct to an international destination on Delta, Aeromexico, Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic can now opt in to use the latest facial recognition technology (FRT) from curb to gate. That means instead of using boarding passes and other identification to check in, check a bag or pass through security, passengers are now using their own faces. Here’s how it works:

Tech advances are making travel more efficient, especially when boarding a plane. 

Passengers have the option of entering passport information online before they even arrive. If they forget to do so, they can enter the information at special kiosks in the airport lobby.

These same kiosks are where passengers scan their faces before dropping baggage at the counter and passing through security.

Passengers who opt into the biometrics option can board their flights without ever showing additional identification or passes at the counter in the lobby, the TSA checkpoint and boarding gate, all of which are outfitted with cameras that confirm someone’s facial identification each step of the way and right up until they board the plane.

Because this technology is still in its beta stage, passengers who opt out of using it are still able to proceed to flights as they always have, though it seems that more travelers than ever are eager to participate in the pilot program. Delta reported that when the technology made its debut last year, most of the estimated 25,000 people who traveled through the concourse each week were eager to use FRT (only 2% of travelers opted out).

A major appeal for travelers is that the new technology immediately began shaving nine minutes of wait time on average during boarding, which prompted the airline to install new scanners at two newly automated screening lanes. These new lanes allow passengers to bypass having to remove electronics from their bags at the checkpoint thanks to smart computer tomography (CT) scanners that are better equipped to see inside luggage.

“Launching the first biometric terminal in the U.S. at the world’s busiest airport means we’re bringing the future of flying to customers traveling around the globe,” explains Gil West, Delta’s COO and senior executive vice president. “Customers have an expectation that experiences along their journey are easy and happen seamlessly — that’s what we’re aiming for by launching this technology across airport touch points.”

This year, the technology is also being scaled for the airline’s international gates in Detroit with additional rollouts anticipated at other Delta hubs where testing has already begun, including JFK in New York, Ronald Reagan in Washington and Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

Biometrics-enhanced check-in is also being offered for all domestic Sky Clubs thanks to new technology from NEC Corporation and CLEAR, which is now available in more than 60 airports and other venues across the country. CLEAR now allows passengers to use fingerprints to check into Sky Clubs nationwide.

Interestingly, it’s actually been the airline’s employees who have been instrumental in moving this technology forward, says West. During the beta phase, Delta employees provided important insights into the facial recognition process, like best camera angles, common questions and how to answer important customer questions while ultimately being able to conduct better interactions with travelers.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan is also pleased with the results. He says that Delta and the CBP “share a common vision for enhancing security and the traveler experience.” In short, he says the new technology is helping to create “a secure, efficient and simplified travel experience.”

David Pekoske, a TSA administrator in Atlanta, predicts, “The expansion of biometrics and facial recognition throughout the airport environment represents the next generation of security identification technology.”

The latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) piggyback on other innovations Delta has recently made, like smart radio-frequency identification (RFID) baggage handling and tracking   ights and baggage using a mobile app. There’s even an app that helps pilots avoid turbulence.

Last year, the airline also introduced a new wireless IFE platform that’s now available on select fleets. The robust system features lightweight interactive wireless tablet displays that help cut back on the weight that used to be created by heavy equipment, screens and wires, thereby reducing emissions. Delta says the new technology will help its 767-400ER fleet decrease roughly 1,330 metric tons of carbon emissions while still offering more digital entertainment options for travelers than ever.

“Our goal is simple,” says Rick Salanitri, president of Delta Flight Products. “We want to deliver a more interactive and cost-effective in-flight entertainment platform that can be easily customized.


At CES 2019, the Bell Nexus made headlines for being what could become the first-ever hybrid-electric flying-taxi service. Created by Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, TX, the Nexus could eventually turn a 45-minute drive into a 10-minute flight when the first commercial six-rotor vehicle takes off from both Dallas-Forth Worth and LAX in 2023 Mitch Snyder, president and CEO of Bell says, “As space at the ground level becomes limited, we must solve transportation challenges in the vertical dimension.” He says this type of on-demand mobility is not only a huge step in the world of transportation, but a necessary one, especially in regions where roads are backed up with traffic or even in remote areas where reaching people quickly is vital.

The air taxi itself use hybrid-electric propulsion that will initially be piloted by a human with the hope of eventually operating like a self-driving vehicle. The prototype weighs about 6,500 pounds and has a range of roughly 150 miles with speeds reaching up to 150 mph. Bell has already partnered with Uber Air on the project, which means that flying taxis could be coming to a sky near you.

EasyJet’s Look&Book, a new app created by VCCP, helps users pinpoint and book travel based on an Instagram photo.


Biometrics is poised to become even more popular in the travel sector, according to a Veridium survey from February 2019 that found 70% of users would actually like to see more biometric authentication being used in technology for two main reasons: speed and security.

Recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) evaluated almost 130 different software algorithms from almost 40 different developers and discovered that biometric algorithms are now far superior than they had been just a few years ago. In fact, NIST reported “just 0.2% of searches failed this year, compared with a 4% failure rate in 2014 and 5% in 2010.”

Not surprisingly, the use of FRT is expected to grow into a $9.8 billion market by 2023 (up from $3.8 billion in 2017).

Veridium reports that the appeal of FRT actually stretches across several different generations: millennials (under 35) love the speed, while gen X-ers (ages 35 to 55) like not having to remember lots of different passwords and baby boomers (55 and older) appreciate the added security.

Interestingly, it’s the gen X-ers that use biometrics the most right now (about 41%, says Veridium) when it comes to travel. That might explain why 77% of airports (and 71% of airlines), according to research from SITA, are planning to incorporate biometric ID management in the next five years.

Another trend to watch is the way that apps are being developed to harness the power of social media that so many people are already using. A good example is EasyJet’s Look&Book, a new app created by VCCP, a creative agency in London that uses AI to help users pinpoint and book travel based on an Instagram photo.

Here’s how it works:

  1. A user uploads a screenshot from Instagram to the app with just one tap on a smart device.
  2. The app will then identify the location using AI technology.
  3. Next, it finds any available EasyJet flights to get to and from the destination featured in the photo (the low-cost airline is based in the U.K. and serves both Europe and North Africa). There are still some blips in the technology, but VCCP says for the most part the technology is pretty good at identifying the location shown in the picture.
  4. Using Microsoft’s Azure APIs, the app auto-completes the booking fields in just a few minutes making it super fast and easy for a user to actually book the flight.

“The fact that Instagram is a huge source of travel inspiration isn’t news to anyone,” explains Alex Dalman, an account executive at VCCP. “It’s people’s peer networks, not branded content, that are the more natural source of inspiration.” The belief here is that by tapping into the power of social media apps that people are already widely using, travel companies can make it that much easier to book trips and take advantage of algorithms that are already capturing so much of a user’s personal information, likes and habits.

According to Daniel Young, head of digital experience at EasyJet, the app is also “genuinely useful for passengers, is a lot of fun to use and it’s commercially minded.”

The goal for this app and others like it is to eventually expand to work with other popular social media apps, especially ones that target a younger demographic, like Snapchat.


Carnival Corporation,the largest leisure cruise company in the world, has been embarking on several innovative ways of improving the technological experiences of its passengers. Most notably, it’s turning its more than 100 ships traveling to more than 740 destinations worldwide into smart cities at sea.

Carnival tapped John Padgett, the mastermind behind Disney ’s IoTfocused MagicBand and MyMagic+, to rethink the way the cruise ship company uses both AI and IoT to enhance the travel experience on and off land. He’s now Carnival’s chief experience and innovation officer.

The first step in this massive project was rolling out the Ocean Medallion, a waterproof device about the size of a quarter that can be worn or carried by passengers. Now available on five ships from Princess Cruises that carry upwards of 3,500 people per sailing, the medallion allows users to customize their experience to order food, drinks and services that are delivered anywhere they are on board, bookmark activities on the ship, as well as pay for products and unlock staterooms on ships that are outfitted with more than 7,000 sensors.

This new smart device not only acts as a universal pass, but it can track someone’s movements (it can also track other members of someone’s party, like children and the elderly). The wearable device works with Ocean Compass, an app that provides intelligent navigation throughout these massive ships — some of which are well over 19 stories tall.

One of the biggest benefits of a wearable smart device like this one begins even before a passenger leaves home. For example, someone can set their cruise itinerary or even check-in remotely via Ocean Ready, a proprietary Carnival technology that allows people to answer questions.

About their health, food preferences and general interests even before they board the ship. That means if someone has a food allergy or wine preference, the data can be programmed well in advance of ever stepping foot onboard. As you can imagine, the established perimeters are also helpful when it comes to maintaining inventory and overall customer service.

Guests can also use this smart wearable tech in lieu of carrying credit cards or cash, which adds another level of security to the cruising experience and tends to encourage travelers to spend more since it’s so easy, which is certainly a benefit for Carnival. Thanks to built-in geo-location technology, the device even allows people to access their rooms without ever using a key during the course of the trip.

But what’s perhaps most interesting about all of the newest advances in travel tech is how little it requires users to really consider it. Most often, the goals are to reduce the work it takes (less steps, less thinking) for someone to be able to access the best, most personalized experiences so that they can ultimately spend more time having fun rather than fiddling with gadgets, credit cards and other everyday distractions. As technologies like virtual reality and biometrics are honed even more succinctly for the travel industry, we can certainly expect it to continue shaping this next frontier with ease.

“The most rewarding experience,” says Padgett about the new smart technology, is that it “ensures that an enhanced, personalized and simplified experience unfolds before the guests without them giving the enabling technology a second thought.”


L.A.-headquartered HyreCar, a car share marketplace that operates in about a dozen U.S. states, recently launched a new mobile app that helps make new driver onboarding and verification even smarter. Using software from MiTek Systems in San Diego, the new app is finding success by not only shortening the amount of time is takes to verify a new driver by about 30%, it also reduces ID forgery by 20%, simply by using AI.

Joe Furnari, HyreCar CEO, says that the new technology has helped to “enable scale and reduce overhead costs toward our future vision and personal transportation.” It’s something he expects many other car rental and sharing companies will be tapping into, especially as issues of security become even more important in shaping the overall user and driver experience.

For its part, MiTek’s focus on digital transactions has played a big role in the way the ridesharing app works. MiTek CEO Max Caenecchia says the focus of the new technology is to strengthen trust and convenience, while supporting stronger overall safety protocols for the ridesharing marketplace, which represents a very popular and convenient part of travel today.

According to a Pew Research study from late 2018, more Americans than ever are using rideshare services: 36% of U.S. adults have used a ridesharing service recently, up from just 15% in 2015. Most of the traffic is, of course, in urban areas where HyreCar and other companies like Uber and Lyft operate, and almost half of all city residents have used a ridesharing app, says Pew, compared to about 19% in rural regions.

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