Expect health passes and biometrics as international travel resumes

January 06, 2021
Photo: SITA

Advanced self-service check-in, the increasing use of biometrics and digital health passes are among the technologies travelers can expect to encounter as they resume traveling in a post-pandemic world.

The aviation technology experts at SITA have identified six technologies they expect to transform air travel in 2021 and at least one it believes will disappear.

Seat-back video screens are on SITA’s endangered list as airlines move to reduce aircraft touchpoints, not to mention costs, and favor wireless entertainment.

READ: The world’s top 20 COVID-complaint airlines.

Counterbalancing this is a swathe of emerging technologies capable of solving COVID-19 challenges.

High on the list are health electronic travel authorities (ETAs) capable of verifying that a passenger meets the health requirements of the country they are entering.

Aviation bodies such as the UN-backed International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air transport Association are already working on a digital travel pass that will do this.

The idea is that travelers will be able to provide information on their vaccination status and any COVID test results prior to travel so they can be assessed before they leave.

“This will give travelers the confidence before they start that they will be allowed to complete their journey,’’ the SITA experts say in a report.

“Advance Passenger Processing (APP) brings the ability to assess the risk, including health risks, and allow or deny travel at check-in.

“When coupled with the implementation of a Health ETA service, it enables real-time checks to be performed to confirm that each traveler has completed the required health checks and is eligible to travel.”

SITA expects these digital checks to become commonplace as COVID vaccines become available during the year and their usage is standardized.

“From head-mounted thermal scanning devices to technology-supported social distancing measures, new technologies have seeped into our airports and changed the passenger experience,’’ the report says.

“That pace of innovation adoption sets a scene for rapid industry transformation over the next few years and will force a historically slow-moving industry into action.”

Other areas SITA has identified include:

Advanced self-service and biometrics.

Travelers will make use of facial recognition and touchless technologies embedded in self-service devices as automation and biometrics become the norm rather than the exception.

The SITA version of this technology can already be seen for outbound travelers in airports such as Beijing and Miami. Passengers use their face as a boarding pass as they walk seamlessly from their ground transportation to the aircraft.

“Once airborne, passengers are increasingly being offered services via Wi-Fi or 4G networks to avoid any non-personal touchpoints (such as seat-back inflight entertainment screens) and respect social distancing – boosting confidence onboard as a result,’’ the report says.

The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The internet of Things includes the billions of objects that can now be connected to the Internet through technologies such as 5G wireless networks.

Sita says maturing artificial intelligence programs, the ubiquity of sensors and cheaper hardware means a tsunami of data can be used to better handle issues ranging from turbulence to airport congestion, sanitization and social distancing.

Passenger flow management technologies.

These allow airports to understand and manage passenger flows throughout an airport to better plan and manage issues such as crowd density.

Technologies such as SITA’s Information Display System can send passengers personalized mobile messages while other programs allow information to be shared with airlines, ground handlers and other tenants.


Blockchain is a technology many people struggle to understand but it essentially provides secure data sharing between industry players.

One estimate is that it could increase aerospace industry revenue by as much as $US40 billion but from a passenger perspective, it could solve challenges in areas such as customs and baggage handling.

An example cited by the technology company is the ability of airports, airlines and governments to share baggage content information.

This could see bags pre-cleared at arrival, avoiding the need to put them through customs and allow them to be automatically re-checked on the next flight.