Will Air Travel Technology Ever Make Physical Passports Obsolete?

Air travel technology has evolved drastically in just a few years, transforming how we fly, from in-flight entertainment options to Clear and biometric scanning. Even physical passports may be eliminated in the near future. The rapid rate of advancement isn’t a surprise – modern flyers have already adjusted to checking into flights and downloading tickets to their phones, a convenience that has only become possible recently. Soon, your passport might be as easy to access as an app on your home screen.

What Are the Differences Between an e-Passport and a Digital Passport?

Mandated by the U.S. since 2006, e-passports are physical passports that utilize embedded microchips. These microchips save the passport owner’s biometric information – their facial recognition data, fingerprints or iris scans – and personal data. These microchips make it difficult for others to counterfeit or tamper with your information, as the data it stores can only be accessed using specialized machines or readers. It also requires biometric identification at immigration checkpoints through real-time verification face scanning, minimizing the risk of identity fraud.

In contrast, digital passports (also known as biometric passports) refer to a digital or electronic representation that’s stored and accessed through digital devices, such as a smartphone. Instead of a physical copy, it’s a secure digital file that holds all the passport’s information, including personal details and biometric data. A digital passport aims to make traveling easier by allowing passengers a convenient and portable alternative to carrying their passports.

The Benefits of Digital Passports

Seamless Air Travel

The idea of digital passports has been gaining traction as a potentially preferable alternative to physical passports, as they may make traveling more seamless. The use of biometric data allows for quick and accurate identity verification, reducing the infamously long waiting times at immigration checkpoints. Furthermore, if digital passports are integrated into existing airport systems, including self-service kiosks and automated gates, they can possibly improve efficiency at a larger scale, expediting the entire travel process to get passengers through quicker.

Biometric Identification

Digital passports incorporate more advanced features than e-Passports, such as secure encryption, authentication mechanisms and integration with biometric identification technologies.

Biometric identification systems have gained popularity in many airports worldwide, as facial recognition, iris scanning and fingerprint matching are already standard methods to verify passengers’ identities. These systems have the capacity to eliminate physical passports, streamlining the check-in and security processes.

Challenges and Limitations of Digital Passports

While a future with digital passports is promising, it isn’t something we’ll see anytime soon, as implementing biometric systems on a global scale would require extensive collaboration with international organizations and an upheaval of air travel as we know it.

International Cooperation

To create seamless travel across borders using digital passports, governments, airlines and international organizations would all have to unite to establish a unified framework, despite differing technological infrastructures and legal frameworks. That’s not to mention regions with limited internet connectivity that might be unable to implement an accessible and reliable digital passport system.

Security and Privacy Concerns

While digital passports offer some advancements in security, they also raise concerns regarding privacy.  Physical passports are tangible documents that can be safeguarded by their owners, whereas digital passports rely on databases and secure networks. A breach in these systems could result in unauthorized access to sensitive information, exposing the personal data of passport holders and travelers.

Organizing robust cybersecurity measures and building trust in digital platforms is likely a necessary component for the widespread adoption of these entirely digitized systems. However, as with Clear and TSA PreCheck, there will likely be future alternatives for passengers who are willing to use these digitized systems for enhanced convenience.

Outfit Your Aircraft With State-of-the-Art IFE Technology to Keep Passengers Comfortable and Entertained

Rosen Aviation has been designing in-flight technology for 40 years and is always striving to grow and improve as the tech landscape changes and expands. Our lauded IFE displays will ensure your guests are safe, snug and entertained during every trip you make. Reach us at 1-888-668-4955 or fill out our online contact form to learn more about how we can upgrade your aircraft.