Passenger wait times at airports across the United States have been cut by as much as 40% as a result of new biometric technology at security gates.

Biometric scanning machines at Las Vegas McCarran Airport

Biometric scanning machines at Las Vegas McCarran Airport Image by SITA

Now SITA, the company behind the automated identity checks, is in discussions with border controllers across Europe and the Middle East as they look to expand.

The biometric technology is already being used at US airports including Boston, JFK New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Orlando.

The futuristic kiosks are also in place in Jamaica, where they are supported from the firm’s software development centre in Letterkenny in Ireland.

SITA told Lonely Planet how the system works: “The e-passport is scanned and the biometric stored on it is compared to the biometric (face, iris, or fingerprint) that is captured at that moment by the person carrying the passport.

‘If there is a match then the person gets access. In addition, the information can be quickly and automatically cross checked against security watch lists and the person refused entry if necessary.”

Fiumicino Airport, Rome.

Fiumicino Airport, Rome. Image by Hector Sanchez / CC BY 2.0

The company has also developed automated border control gates, which are already in use at Rome’s Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci airport.

Those gates are helping to process around 3,000 passengers a day in the Italian capital, with four gates at both the departures and arrivals area of the airport.

SITA’s own research has shown that airline travel is for the most part enjoyable to passengers, but especially if they get to use technology.

Traditional choke points like check-in desks, security queues and baggage waiting tend to be the most negative part of every journey.

However, self-service or automated options dramatically improve the flying experience, with 97% of passengers using web check-in satisfied compared to 83% who used an old-fashioned airport check-in desk.

Satisfaction ratings drop most dramatically at security queues where only 64% still remain positive about their journey.

“Airline passengers [are] happiest when using technology,” said SITA, “and security and border checkpoints are an obvious area where more self-service could be used.”