How Aruba is creating a seamless travel experience with facial recognition

By Ming En Liew

Annet Steenbergen, Project Lead of the Aruba Happy Flow project for the Government of Aruba, shares how the programme has revolutionised travel for the country.

In Avengers: Endgame, a team of superheroes had the chance to travel back in time to reverse the actions of the main villain. However, time travel is not possible in reality. Time once passed is gone forever, making it an extremely valuable resource.

Yet, travelling is often a time-consuming process that requires travellers to arrive at the airport hours earlier. They will then need to go through long queues and numerous document checks. In the island country Aruba, this tedious process may soon be a thing of the past.

Annet Steenbergen, Project Lead of the Aruba Happy Flow project, shares how facial recognition technology has sped up the country’s travel and border clearance.

Improving efficiency to create a seamless travel experience

Upon arrival at the airport, passengers have to go through numerous stages such as checking in, bag drops, border clearance, and boarding. At each stage, they need to queue and present their passport and boarding pass for verification.

The Aruba Happy Flow programme eliminates the need for multiple checks, says Steenbergen.

With the programme, passengers who wish to use it only need to present their travel documents at check-in. Then, a temporary virtual identity is created using their facial biometrics.

At subsequent stages in the travel process, passengers can use their faces to verify their identity instead of presenting their travel documents, she explains. Each stage now only takes a few seconds.

In fact, the process was so quick that Aruba had to slow down the process at boarding, as it led to a bottleneck at the airbridge where passengers boarded the plane, adds Steenbergen.

The Happy Flow programme helps border authorities as well. All stakeholders have a real time overview of the passenger’s process. This allows them to actively monitor passenger flow and make changes if there are bottlenecks.

The programme was piloted at the Aruba International Airport, and was developed by numerous parties including Aruba, the Netherlands, and airline carrier KLM.

Minimising data sharing to maximise privacy

Aruba’s Happy Flow programme allows passengers to only share data that is absolutely necessary, says Steenbergen.
For example, airlines will only get the passport data that they need and they receive it digitally knowing it is verified and trusted. “You share less, but the data comes from a trusted source,” says Steenbergen.

Aruba looks forward to extending this programme to the entire travel experience in the future, including hotel check-ins and car rental, she shares. Hotels, for instance, would no longer need to collect the full copy of guests’ passports during check-in.
No hotel wants to collect passport copies because it is very sensitive information, Steenbergen explains. With Happy Flow, they can just obtain the information they need, and trust that guests’ identity is verified, she says.

Data protection and educating the public


The sky's the limit for using data to create more effective processes, as long as they adhere to the highest privacy and data protection standards, says Steenbergen. And if passengers are not well-informed, they can end up sharing their data with the wrong people, which is a privacy concern, she cautions.

Any data collection programme should comply with data protection regulations, says Steenbergen. For instance, the Happy Flow programme adheres to the EU’s GDPR data protection standard.

Organisations also need to ensure that passengers are informed on how their data is being used, and to obtain consent from citizens before collecting and using their data, she says. An opt-out option should be available if passengers do not wish to share their data, or wish to pull out of the programme, she adds.

Government agencies, airlines and airports have a responsibility to educate their citizens and travellers by having a clear privacy policy, she says. This means that the privacy policy should not be in small fonts and be excessively lengthy.

A lot is possible with data, but authorities need to build trust with the different parties involved, emphasises Steenbergen. This can be done through the creation of a trust mark, similar to those on bank cards, she suggests.

Aruba’s Happy Flow project is an example of what a seamless travel experience can look like across the world. If successful, travelling can soon be a speedy and fuss-free process.

Featured image by Navigator334 - CC BY-SA 4.0.