There is a new reason to get yourself onto the vibrant streets of Camden, and no, this time it’s not for the music, bars, or markets. Camden’s imposing 19th-century St. Pancras station, pictured above, is now home to one of the UK’s latest border projects. iProov, Entrust and Inverid have partnered with Eurostar, to get you onto the European mainland without manual ticket or UK exit checks, by deploying what is essentially a tablet that captures your face whilst you walk past it.
To take advantage of this streamlined process, those bound for the continent must upload a photo of their passport, along with a selfie to the SmartCheck app. This is securely done ahead of travel via mobile or browser, leaving the passenger to breeze through the designated “biometric corridor”, followed by baggage and French border control as the only agent-led touchpoints. The figure below nicely illustrates the steps involved in mobile enrolment.
(Steps involved for mobile enrolment)
This solution was first trialled between December of 2021 and April of 2022, before a full commercial rollout in July of this year. Eurostar chose to adopt this service because of issues around station capacity, coupled with border control limitations, brought about by passenger-processing bottlenecks. The innovative biometric corridor has resulted in ticket and UK exit checks being completed in a record two seconds on average, having a substantial knock-on effect towards reducing these bottlenecks. Staff members also benefit from their time being freed up, bettering the management of resources, whilst additionally eliminating inconsistencies or mistakes that agents may make. From a border control perspective, guards are left happy as Advanced Passenger Information (API) is delivered swiftly and conveniently before the traveller has arrived at the station.
iProov’s software, at the core of this process, is consistently recognised and awarded for its high levels of security, whilst enrolment is only carried out once. This allows for subsequent trips with Eurostar to be processed in the same way, assuming the traveller has linked their new ticket in the app.
This is a particularly exciting development when we consider how the problems at St. Pancras closely mirror issues being faced by many airports. The aviation industry is similarly suffering from pandemic-induced labour shortages and limited passenger processing space. Serving a figure of around 20 million passengers annually, the station could be considered equivalent to a tier two airport, which makes one wonder when we might see this kind of technology being used more widely at border control in air travel. Several recent trials suggest that it’s not far away:
- First announced in March, IDEMIA partnered with the Dutch Ministry of Justice & Security, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Defence/Royal Netherlands Marechaussee and Schiphol Airport to trial the use of digital travel credentials (DTCs) on KLM flights between Canada and the Netherlands. This three-month trial requires participants to share their data with border authorities before travel and to comply with current regulations. A physical passport is also needed to engage with IDEMIA’s kiosk at the border checkpoint.
- In the same month (March) SITA revealed that it would be working with Aruba’s Queen Beatrix Airport to facilitate the elective sharing of passenger data to relevant stakeholders including border control officials, hotels or car rental businesses. The process is completed by creating a DTC from a traveller’s physical passport and builds upon trials first implemented, by SITA and the government of Aruba, in 2021.
- In August, Finnish border guards started to trial the acceptance of DTCs and the facility to submit data in advance of travel, for both arriving and departing flights to select UK destinations from Helsinki, with Croatia to join later in the year. This includes Finns having to physically register at a police station and the process is still hampered by manual checks at border control.
- In late September it was announced that Airside Mobile and Vision-Box joined forces to create a mobile-based, pre-enrolment border crossing system that will allow US, EU and Canadian passport holders to send verified travel documentation ahead of their arrival at the Curaçao border.
- Going back to Croatia, earlier this month, the country began giving its citizens the opportunity to depart Zagreb Airport, and some land borders, by having their DTC checked at border control.
These trials and implementations of DTCs signal a clear desire, from the industry, for digital credentials to be used in passenger processing. As discussed, border authorities enjoy the convenient deliverance of data, airports can reduce passenger bottlenecks through further offsite processing and travellers have tighter control over their own data. Despite these benefits, worldwide adoption won’t happen overnight, each stakeholder needs to be educated on the benefits of using a digital wallet or credential. As identified with the above implementations, Europe is leading the charge when it comes to DTCs, while countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada are also strong proponents of their use. Others are looking to learn from first movers and are adopting a wait and see approach for now. We must also consider those countries that benefit greatly from tourism, such as Aruba. These states are more incentivised to improve passenger processing efficiency and innovate the passenger experience to bring in more visitors to their borders. But they won’t all move at once.
Valour Consultancy’s new report on The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports will address how DTCs will fit into the future of airport-passenger facilitation. Its upcoming report on Smart Borders: The Digitalisation of Land, Sea & Air Borders will provide a comprehensive analysis of DTCs, ETAs and new solutions to improve the traveller experience, border security and operational efficiency. Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more about either of these reports.