Last week, UK Border Force announced strike action which will heavily impact anyone hoping to travel in or out of the UK over the festive period. In total, eight days of strike action are planned with only one “recovery” day separating the two periods.
Capacity for more eGates
Heathrow Airport and others have said that passengers (from some countries with which the UK has bilateral agreements) will be able to use existing ABC eGates for passing through the border – but this ignores the majority of third country nationals (TCNs) arriving and departing.
Whilst the UK has a notable number of eGates in place, there remains capacity for more. Similarly, outside of the large installation at Heathrow, there are very few automated boarding gates for departures – and even the ones at Heathrow aren’t being fully utilised to biometrically check and authenticate passengers in conjunction with Border Force’s systems.
Digital Travel Credentials (DTCs)
With the development of digital travel credentials (DTCs), it is possible to self-derive a Type 1 DTC – effectively a digital copy of your passport on your smartphone – and submit this for checks at touchpoints in an airport.
These checks can be at self-service eGates and kiosks, as well as manual if required. With Type 2 (and 3) DTCs, it will be possible to “push the border out”, gathering this data in advance of travel, allowing passengers to arrive and be seamlessly checked, along with boarding passes, and without the current level of bureaucracy and manual checks. This will save a lot of time, queuing and manpower.
Automating and Digitising Processes
A little further down the line, with a move to more automated and risk-based decision-making, this data can be used to judge and pre-approve passengers for border clearance – or at least the majority of them.
Automating and digitising these processes also means that the level and quality of data is improved, with much less room for manual errors (by travelers or staff), and it can be more easily shared where required (and all in accordance with GDPR and other regulations). The self-sovereign nature of DTCs means that the user remains in control of their personal data, sharing where they wish to and improving their overall experience.
Staffing resources can be focused on those passengers who either do no meet the baseline for pre- approval and clearance at borders, or for whom it is not possible, or whom require additional assistance. This improves efficiencies and the level of service, benefitting both staff and travellers. It also allows aids the post-COVID recovery, enables more flexibility in staffing and ensures airport operators can better cope with the disruptions and surges in demand that have blighted border authorities in countries around the world over the past few years.
Lack of Modern Border Processes
Part of the argument being made for strike action is that staff are having to supplement their (lower) salaries with food banks and benefits in order to make ends meet – but this ignores the point that if the border processes were modernised, they could operate much more efficiently, and with reduced OPEX, than heavily relying on manual processes.
Whilst not wishing to do anyone out of a job, it also means that the retained staff can be better rewarded and better trained, improving their level of satisfaction and well-being. In my opinion, the technology is there to modernise the travel sector (and others) in how people are processed but it is being held back by the heavily unionised presence, which appears to value volume of staff over quality.
I realise that there is not an endless pot of money to invest in the infrastructure of airports and borders, but looking to the long-term, with a coherent plan (something we do not always have in government departments) is of benefit to everyone, showing that modernisation is not a dirty word. However, such change can only happen if – and it is a big if – governments, unions, other stakeholders and the travel sector as a whole, can agree to modernise and adapt processes to incorporate new secure and trusted self-service and automated solutions for the benefit of all.
Valour Consultancy published a well-received report on The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports at the end of 2021 and is expanding its coverage of Airports and Borders.
- A new report on Smart Borders (Land, Sea and Air) is under development and will review the current state of the union and look at how technology-based approaches will shape our future border experiences.
- In Q1 2023, we will be publishing the first edition of our new Smart Airports Market Tracker, examining the adoption of biometrics in automated and self-service touchpoints.
- In Q2 2023, we will be updating The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports and addressing the latest market developments and future trends.
Please contact us if you would like to be find out more about the scope of our research and market intelligence, and if you would to be featured and participate in our market coverage.