A customer uses a touchless boarding kiosk at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Arriving Soon: Touchless Technology and More

From touchless boarding to facial-recognition security screening, touchless travel has been on the aviation industry’s horizon for some time. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced airports to fast-track these technologies.

“Previously, it was a projected growth in travel, and the resulting need to maintain efficient security and boarding processes, that were driving touchless technology in the aviation sector,” said Dan Carness, Manager of Information Technology Business Applications for Pittsburgh International Airport.

“Things such as biometric and facial recognition, and a touchless boarding gate, were originally discussed as ways to improve the customer experience in relation to the ease of travel. These changes were going to happen regardless of COVID.”

From the outset of the pandemic in 2020, airports have responded in different ways to utilize technology to help combat the spread of the virus. For instance, Pittsburgh International recently installed a touchless, high-speed handwashing station between its two trains that transport passengers between terminals. It takes 12 seconds to get a high-pressure wash after placing your hands in the station’s two ports.

Other technology, however, has been in the works for awhile and now is being recognized not only for customer convenience, but for its potential safety aspects.

Using biometrics and facial recognition to replace the scanning of boarding passes may take a few years to become prevalent in the U.S., which is behind European airports in this area. But touchless boarding passes and baggage drop-off kiosks are becoming commonplace. And at some airports, concessions have added delivery services, as well.

Several companies are taking the baggage drop-off kiosks a step further by developing technology that will allow customers who have purchased electronic tags to tag their own luggage. Through an airline app, travelers would essentially download a bar-coded image that would be displayed on the “e-tag,” which is re-usable.

Upon arriving at the airport for departure, customers would only need to head to the drop-off area and then proceed on their way. The e-tag would eliminate the need for passengers with downloaded boarding passes to stand in lines to drop off luggage.

PIT is also working to simplify the pre-flight process by making it touchless through recently converted self-serve check-in kiosks. The kiosks, located throughout the Landside Terminal, are accessed using QR readers on smart phones.

Two QR codes are displayed on the screen of each kiosk. Customers simply scan the first code to be connected to the kiosk itself and the second code allows them to operate the touchscreen from the smart phone.

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