There was a time when people could accompany you to the entrance of the plane before having to turn around and leave. The 9/11 terror attack in New York had airports reinvent a bunch of processes that were not really thought about in the past. We no longer could help our elderly family members with their heavier carry-on luggage once they got into the security line. Nowadays, many airports no longer feature restaurants/bars before security check-points. We used to enjoy having one last beer before saying ‘Goodbye’ to someone we might not see for a very long time, but now we cannot do that. It might be because air travel has become such a ‘normal’ thing that people are no longer escorted to airports by their entire families. While I do not mind traveling alone, I feel for those who hate being away from their loved ones longer than they have to.
It is as if it happened overnight, but suddenly, you had to show your ticket and your passport to a million different people before you got on a plane. Even though I understand certain measures are being taken for our safety, it still does not keep me from getting annoyed at the fact that I have to pull out my documents more than a couple of times. Have you ever heard an announcement at the airport about someone leaving their belongings behind at the security check? Sometimes the moment a message about a scarf left behind stops playing, one about a forgotten laptop comes on. It makes me wonder if people ever leave their passports/tickets behind. They have to, right? Since you have to show your documents so many times, you begin to place them in an easily accessible place (like a back pocket). What happens then? You sit down, or take your phone out and the ticket falls out.
There was a time when, compared to an average citizen, I traveled quite a bit and I was up to date on all the rules and regulations. However, in recent years, those began to differ between airports. (Are we relaxing because we think we have done a good job stopping terrorists?) Some require you to take your shoes off, others do not. Same applies to electronic devices – “yes, you have to take them out,” vs. “no, you do not.” I had an item go through security without an issue at one airport and then had the same item confiscated at another airport (same country, different state).
Another place where I get confused is the entrance onto the plane. Sometimes you need your passport and your boarding pass, while, at other times, you will only need the latter. An employee of the airline stands in front of the exit and either checks your passport (AGAIN! for the fifth time) and/or scans your boarding pass. It shocked me a couple of years ago when I saw the employee standing there doing nothing as each passenger scanned their own pass. Scanning my own items at the grocery store (i.e. playing a cashier) lost its magic many years ago. Why have an employee if they do not do a single thing? I guess they are there to judge books by their covers. If some of their duties are being eliminated, why are we faced with rising airplane ticket fares?
If you traveled to the U.S.A. from outside of the country, you had to fill out a customs declaration before landing, which you would then present at the entry checkpoint. It was annoying because it required you to enter your name, date of birth, passport number (all of which are in your passport), as well as your address, a list of any potential items you will have to declare, and a few other things. It was yet another hurdle but learned how to deal with it. When e-passport became a thing, I could not be happier. Although I am not the biggest fan of phone apps, I jumped on it because I could fill out all the info as we drove to the gate/waited to be let out, snap a current photo of myself and then be on my merry way. The lines for people with electronic passports were much shorter and it was much more convenient to show border patrol your phone instead of your passport and a customs form. Convenient? Definitely. Although, I was not too keen on sharing a photo of me after a 12-hour+ journey.
When I landed in Sydney a few years back, I was greeted by automated gates instead of people. You stepped up to a specific place, smiled at the camera, and were then told to move towards your luggage pick-up area. No interactions with humans asking silly questions? Win! It was when my sibling walked through them without an issue and I was stopped by border patrol. I was not given a reason as to why I had to go through the manual process like at all of the other airports. Maybe they do this routinely to random people or maybe there is a criminal out there who looks like me. (If you would like to read more about SmartGates, take a look at this Australian website.
Dubai’s airport was already fancier back then. Fewer people, more machines. I found it to be quite relaxing because having to smile and greet so many airport employees on your journey can be rather draining for me (especially after having been in the air for 13 hours and still having plenty to go). This weekend, however, Dubai took another step into the future, putting iris scanners into use at the airport. The SmartGate I mentioned in Sydney compared a person’s biometrics stored on a chip implanted into their passport with what was presented at the airport with the use of facial recognition software. As demonstrated by me, those are not foolproof. That might be why Dubai decided to focus on our irises which are said to be even more secure than fingerprints.
It is good to learn that contact lenses or glasses do not interfere with the iris scanners. While some surgeries might change your iris shape or color, the “texture” or pattern remain the same. Still, I wonder what if it did. Would you be detained for trying to pass as someone they think you are not? Probably. How would you prove that you are you? Medical records? I am not sure that your eye surgeon takes and keeps your old vs. new iris scans. Would that mean you would never be allowed to travel? Would you be thrown into prison?
One of my fellow bloggers recommended an Anime series to me entitled: “Psycho-Pass.” It is a fascinating show. Even before watching it I already thought of people stealing other people’s eyes, but this show takes it to a whole other level. As I read about the iris scanners I kept thinking about ocular transplants. How will that impact the software>
The coronavirus definitely had its hand in this program getting rolled out because the new measures enable a traveler to enter or exit the United Arab Emirates without having to interact with an airport employee. No need to exchange passports and/or tickets. That gets a plus from me. It is much better than having a foreign body implanted into us with our biometrics that we would need to scan every time. But… why? Once I started pondering about it, I realized that the iris scanners can lead to a future we might not necessarily like. We are already weary about all the street cameras and facial recognition being used every day. Yes, most of us probably do not think about it as much (if even aware) because there is not much we can do other than stay at home and go out into the boondocks when we want to go on a vacation.
The UK launched its iris scanners for specific travelers in 2004 (decommissioned in 2013), while Doha, a large airport in Qatar launched its iris project in 2011, but I have not heard of it until now. Does that mean that the technology might not be as beneficial as one might think or is it because Western countries are afraid of the infringement of privacy that such surveillance might bring?
- What do you think of the iris scanners?
- Have you encountered any weird measures at airports?
- Do you have experience with facial or iris recognition software?
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