Emirates Unveils Biometric Passport-Free Boarding: ‘Your Face Is The Passport’

Data gathering takes a brave new form.

Emirates Unveils Biometric Passport-Free Boarding: ‘Your Face Is The Passport’

Image: NYT

Emirates airline is introducing passport-free boarding for passengers, replacing it with face-scanning biometrics. Is this a new age of airport efficiency or data-gathering in disguise?

Following hot on the heels of Changi Airport’s first steps towards biometric integration and a passport powershift that saw Aussie papers tumble, Emirates is set to unveil a totally passport-free boarding process in its Middle Eastern hubs, replacing the standard immigration desks with face-scanners that determine whether you may or may not board.

In a video shared by The National News, Emirates staff can be seen explaining the new process for their passengers which, so far as we can tell, is a world-first in providing totally passport-free travel; while Singapore’s Changi airport began rolling out biometrics last year and is set to scrap passports in mid-late 2024, it seems Emirates may have beaten them to the punch.

As one of the Emirates team describes, there will be “no need for a boarding pass…”:

“[And] no need for a passport. Bascially, your face is the passport. So, after you drop your bagsm you go through immigration. Then, you go through this tunnel. If it [turns] green, it means you’re registered, identified, and good to go.”

Emirates Staff

However, this begs a worrying if obvious question… what happens if the face-scanner doesn’t turn green?

“However, if it’s red, you will be stopped and we’ll have to figure out why…”

Emirates Staff

So, it seems that while these scanners are set to be deployed in Dubai airport from Mach 2024, flesh-and-blood immigration officials will still maintain a significant presence as the technology finds its feet and, more pointedly, finds some faces it doesn’t like.

Nevertheless, as bag drop and check-in processes become increasingly automated, this move could mean that all the waiting and queuing associated with the first few minutes (or sometimes hours) of arrival at an airport will be gotten rid of, making the process much faster and much less stressful.

While some will no doubt greet this news with scepticism, raising valid concerns about how the data for this technology is collected, how long it is stored and how it might be deployed beyond the bounds of the airport, many will push these issues to the back of their mind in favour of unrivalled convenience.

Dubai Airport will be home to these new scanners. Image: Euronews

These very same concerns rushed to the fore when US airline Delta began a trepidacious move into using similar technology earlier this year and when Changi unveiled their plans too. Unsurprisingly, this is a debate that ranges far beyond the travel sector and will likely be a central theme of the 21st century as new technologies allow unprecedented transformations in how we interact with infrastructure and services.

However you feel about it, it seems this tech is rolling out fast and likely here to stay. I, for one, welcome our robot overlords, having spent far too much of my life queuing anxiously to be looked up and down by a human whose judgement I could well do without.

However, governments must be held accountable for keeping the big tech businesses behind these innovations in check; their record with keeping our data safe isn’t exactly glowing…