Biometrics and ID Document Travel – What You Need to Know

February 23, 2023    |    6 minute read

Biometrics and ID Document Travel – What You Need to Know

February 23, 2023    |    6 minute read

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Despite the number of seats offered by airlines and number of travelers still remaining below pre-pandemic levels, people increasingly travel more, as evidenced by comparing year-over-year numbers. For example, the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) noted a 23% year-over-year increase in passengers for December 2022. Meanwhile, airlines remain understaffed, overwhelming employees tasked with airport check-ins. As traveler numbers increase without a corresponding increase in staffing, everyone involved in the travel process becomes frustrated.  

With biometrics ID documents for travel, airports can check-in travelers more efficiently and effectively to provide better traveler experiences.  

What is meant by biometric ID? 

Biometric identification, or biometric ID, combines a person’s unique physical characteristics with government-issued identity documents to verify the individual’s identity. Some examples of the immutable physical characteristics include: 

  • Face  
  • Fingerprints 
  • Palm prints 
  • Voice 

 With biometric ID, these characteristics are linked to identity documents like: 

  • Driver’s license 
  • Birth certificate 
  • Passport 

Biometric ID makes forging documents nearly impossible, giving airport and airline staff a way to ensure that people are who they say they are.  

What is the difference between a biometric passport and a regular passport? 

To streamline processes, both types of passports are machine-readable, meaning that airport staff can use scanners. However, they do have a few differences.  

Optical Passport 

A regular passport, called an optical passport, includes information about a person’s identity across two lines of numbers, letters, and arrows at the bottom of the document’s main page. When airport staff scan these lines, it matches the passport data to immigration databases and government watchlists. 

The optical passport contains the following traveler information: 

  • Full name 
  • Date of birth
  • Passport number 

While the machine can read this information, the airport staff still needs to compare the person’s picture with the individual standing in front of them.  

Biometric Passport 

Also called e-passports and digital passports, biometric passports are paper documents that include Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips containing additional information that can’t be easily replicated.  

The biometric passport supplements the traveler information contained in an optical passport with biometric data, like face scans. When a traveler checks-in, the airport staff uses a camera that scans the person’s biometric data, comparing it to the biometric information that the passport’s chip contains. Once the technology confirms a match, travelers can continue on their way.  

The Benefits of Biometric ID Travel Documents 

Biometric travel documents have been in use since the early 2000s because they provide various benefits for both travelers and the staff working with them.  

Reduced Identity Fraud 

Biometric identifiers are nearly impossible to change or fake. Although criminals in movies might try to alter their fingerprints or undergo cosmetic surgery, these tactics aren’t likely in the real world. Airline and airport staff who use these travel documents to verify someone’s identity can have greater confidence that a traveler’s documents are real rather than fake.  

Enhanced Security 

The RFID chips used in biometric ID travel documents implement security protections that make it difficult for criminals to steal someone’s passport information. These protections include: 

  • RF blocker technology on the documents cover to reduce unauthorized reading risks 
  • Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology to prevent the chip’s information from being altered or intercepted 

Robust Privacy 

The digital data security controls also protect travelers’ privacy. However, privacy also includes how the data transfers between the identification documentation and the scanning technology. Some of these technologies include: 

  • Basic Access Control (BAC) on the chip to create a secure communications channel with the scanner  
  • Random Unique Identifier (RUID) technology to prevent anyone from tracking the person carrying the document 

Time and Staffing Reductions 

The biometric travel documentation typically incorporates a digital image of the traveler’s passport photo, giving staff a way to automate the identity verification process. Instead of stopping someone to engage in a manual comparison, a kiosk using facial recognition technology makes the comparison.  

Key Considerations for a Biometric ID Solution 

As airports and airlines seek to incorporate biometric ID travel documents into their boarding processes, they need to find a solution that enables them to achieve operational excellence while protecting personal data.  


Airports and airlines connect with a global population, but no single standard for biometric data formats exists. For example, an American traveler’s biometric passport might be formatted differently than a British biometric ID travel document, creating issues in a British airport whose system can only handle its country’s formatting.  

Rapid Implementation 

As airports and airlines continue to struggle with limited staff, they need to implement time saving technologies as quickly as possible. Any biometric ID solution should enable rapid implementation by providing pre-configured services. Additionally, the solution should integrate into current technology stacks that often include legacy or internally designed software.  

Ease of Use  

The solution should provide an intuitive user interface that enables both travelers and staff. To do this, it should support all device types to ensure that travelers never feel that their experience is limited by the device that they have. For the airline and airport staff, the solution should be delivered as-a-Service so that no one is burdened by workstation installation and application maintenance.  

Reliability and Scalability 

In travel, a single point of failure can lead to customer churn. Airports and airlines leverage biometrics to streamline operations so that they can deliver better customer service. A solution must provide reliable service availability to mitigate business interruption risks, including enabling the airport or airline to expand its operational loads quickly.  


Across the regional and national data protection regulatory landscape, the aviation industry needs to meet various data protection requirements that include: 

  • Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 
  • Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/1998 

Additionally, various standards and industry organizations set out security controls that the aviation industry can use to meet its regulatory compliance requirements, including:  

  • IOSA Standards Manual (ISM) 14th Edition 
  • Airports Council International (ACI) Cybersecurity for Airport Executives Handbook 
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001:2022 Information technology – Security techniques – Information security management systems – requirements 
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-53 

 When airports and airlines adopt new technologies, they need to ensure that the solution enables them to meet their compliance requirements. During the due diligence process, it’s important to understand the technology’s security and the way that the solution fits into the organization’s overall data protection compliance program.  

Biometric Travel ID Documents: The Future of Aviation is Already Here 

As airports and airlines look to streamline operations and reduce overhead, biometric travel ID documentation provides a way forward. The ability to automate manual processes reduces the repetitive tasks that staff often need to complete, giving them more time to provide travelers better experiences.  

Click here for more on the future of biometrics in travel and to read how AwareABIS™can support border management. 


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