July 16, 2024

Computer says no. Scanner says no. Dubai says YES

Looking 'more shifty than a Marbella timeshare salesman' means Scott Wylie, CTO of TripStax, often struggles with airport check-in and security, but there's new tech on the horizon

It’s been a year since my first column was published and I wasn’t even sure if my family would read it. It’s meant a lot to me to share my thoughts, so thank you to everyone who has made it through at least one of them.

Now back to tech. I know people love grumbling when it goes wrong, but when it works, we all love it. We love IT! (see what I did there?)

One aspect of business travel long overdue a makeover is the tedious process of passing through an airport. Passengers must repeatedly show their boarding card and passport and submit their bags to lengthy searches. I suppose everyone feels they run into trouble during this sequence of events, but it seems to happen to me an awful lot. Looking more shifty than a Marbella timeshare salesman probably doesn’t help!

Recently, I had to put my carry-on bag through a scanner no fewer than five times. I keep a couple of dozen cables, adapters and other unavoidable tools of my trade in my bag, and the machine simply couldn’t cope.

This continued on my next trip with an extended bout of ‘Computer Says No’ to my attempts to check in at Heathrow airport. Eventually, after various supervisors, and then supervisors’ supervisors, were called in, I was issued with my boarding card. To say sorry, Etihad upgraded me from business class to first. “We normally only offer these upgrades to passengers who are smartly attired,” the check-in assistant said to me – on the basis of which I should rightly have been downgraded to economy, or better still the baggage hold.

There is a fantastic breakthrough just down the road at Dubai airport. If you agree to have your photo taken at check-in, you can breeze into the Emirates lounge, through immigration and the boarding gate without needing to show your passport, boarding card or the insides of your pockets.

It’s all done using cameras and biometric facial recognition technology. Some people might consider it a bit Big Brother-y, but e-gates to enter the UK use facial recognition too. The only difference is you have to show your passport as well, whereas in Dubai you don’t.

Meanwhile, the poor old European Union is still struggling to introduce its Entry/Exit Scheme for visitors from outside the EU, where you will have to use a self-service system but then still go through passport control. EES has already been delayed a couple of times, and it is set to be delayed again until at least November 2024 – all to produce a process that is years behind Dubai. Perhaps the EU should take the opportunity to bin the tech and start again?

Scott Wylie is Chief Technology Officer at TripStax