London Gatwick rethinks airport security to reduce passenger processing times

airlinetrends.com | November 17, 2011

By Ryan Ghee, Editor, Future Travel Experience

While the first priority of airport security is to ensure the safety of passengers and fully secure the air travel process, increasing passenger expectations also demand that the process is completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Even in the age of an increased threat from terrorism and the subsequent introduction of strict rules on the carriage of liquids, aerosols and gels, passengers have set a high benchmark for what they expect from airport security. The weight of importance placed on enhancing the process is highlighted by IATA’s vision for the ‘Checkpoint of the Future’, which was outlined earlier this year.

This concept envisages an end to the one-size-fits-all approach to airport security through a triple-pronged approach: Strengthened security by focusing resources where risk is greatest; supporting this risk-based approach by integrating passenger information into the checkpoint process; and maximising throughput for the vast majority of travellers who are deemed to be low-risk with no compromise on security levels. Although the concept appears strong on paper, making significant changes to such a vital process is bound to come with complexities and some have questioned whether it is, in fact, realistic.

London Gatwick rethinks the security process
However, with the opening of its new 19-lane South Terminal Security product, Gatwick Airport provides an example of the significant enhancements that can be made to the existing airport security process. In a first of its kind project, the airport has adopted ‘Iris at a Distance’ technology to automate and expedite entry to the security area, while colour coding, screens displaying accurate queuing times, and specific assistance lanes, have also been adopted.

The large, high-tech security area includes 15 standard lanes for passengers, two dedicated lanes for families with young children and passengers with reduced mobility, and two lanes for premium travellers. Passengers access security by swiping their boarding cards, or smartphone displaying their boarding card, and screens displaying queue times for different colour-coded lanes will give passengers the choice of which lane to use. Smarter scanning technology and automated processes speeds up travel through the security area by 25 percent – increasing the passenger capacity for each of the lanes to 250 passengers per hour.

A spacious preparation area has been positioned ahead of the main security area, specifically designed to help passengers get themselves ready to go through security. Large plasma screens giving instructions in five different languages will also help passengers understand exactly what they can and can’t take through security.

“Previously, passengers could have been waiting for as long as an hour to get through security at busy peak times, but now we have a target to make sure that no passenger queues for more than five minutes at security,” explained Geoff Williams, Head of Security, Gatwick Airport. “Having listened to our passengers and watched their behaviour in the security area, we have provided different services for families, passengers with reduced mobility and others who might need some assistance, and we have created two special lanes just for those groups. This has also allowed us to speed up processing through the other lanes.”

Iris at a Distance
The most innovative aspect of the new security process is the use of the ‘Iris at a Distance’ (IaaD) technology. The passenger’s iris is scanned, along with the boarding card, on the entrance and exit to the departure lounge, ensuring that the same person enters and leaves. The technology is known as MFlow Track and has been developed by Human Recognition Systems and AOptix Technologies. The key difference between IaaD and the previous generation of iris capture devices is its ability to locate and capture the iris of the passenger, as opposed to the user having to stand in an exact location for the capture to be successfully completed. The data of the iris scans is kept for 24 hours by the airport to allow for early check-ins.

Colour-coded, real-time waiting times
Another system, called MFlow Journey, uses facial recognition biometrics to allow Gatwick to track passengers through the airport and to display queue times for different colour coded lanes, so passengers can choose which lane to use. Says Gatwick’s Williams: “The idea is to make the whole process more welcoming and we’re giving our passengers a choice. People are able to avoid the longest queues if they’re in a hurry. All passengers are different and we’ve seen business travellers identifying the shortest queues so they can pass through security as quickly as possible, and we’ve seen groups of people who are happy to just join the nearest queue.”

107 seconds
Although the IaaD technology, assistance lanes, colour coding and real-time queuing times are all eye-catching features, the real issue is whether they are actually proving to be effective at expediting the security process. After all, one of Gatwick’s mottos is: “We hate queues”. While Gatwick targets to process all passengers through security in less than five minutes, the airport’s new South Terminal security process contributed to an average processing time of less that 2 minutes (107 seconds to be exact).