Keeping an Eye on Travel Security at Schiphol Airport
Ranked the world’s ninth-best air hub in 2020 by Skytrax, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol was already familiar with technology that encourages hygiene measures—even before the coronavirus pandemic emerged.
Privium, an exclusive traveler membership program at Schiphol, has three lounges at the international airport that allow its members to relax before a flight, rest between connecting legs of a journey, or get some work done—all with a range of food and beverage options and free Wi-Fi. Privium Plus members also receive perks outside of the lounges, such as priority parking at the airport, priority security access throughout Schiphol, and other benefits, according to Franc Vink, head of Schiphol Privium and VIP service.
Both Privium Plus and Basic members—roughly 60,000 users who are frequent travelers and Schiphol patrons—can use iris scanners at passport control lanes for faster border clearance. This allows users to skip juggling with their luggage to pull out their passport or touching a fingerprint reader. “The main benefit is the fact that you can travel fast and without showing documents,” Vink says.
When someone signs up for membership, his or her iris is scanned and a record of the biometric data collected is automatically stored in a new central biometric database. At passport control lanes, after a member’s eyes are scanned, the information is compared to the scan logged in the database. And when the scans match, the gates open to let the verified person through.
When Privium’s original iris scanners were installed approximately 20 years ago, they were “the most advanced biometric solution available regarding performance and reliability,” Vink says. And while Privium was more focused on the speed at which the readers would allow members to pass through the gates, the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and the call for touchless solutions strengthened the value of this biometric solution.
In 2019, roughly 71.7 million people traveled through Schiphol, fueling the expectation that Privium’s membership program would also grow, supported by a four-year growth trend. The older readers for the iris-scanning solution were reaching their end of life, so Privium began looking to update the solution to match the airport’s expansion and growing needs, Vink says.
Privium decided to roll out new scanners from IrisID in a staggered program that began at the end of 2018. The pilot phase aligned with the airport’s construction of a new terminal, and Privium provided its current members with educational information on the new system.
The pilot program helped Privium adjust the new scanners within the first few months. Members reached out to either compliment or critique aspects of the setup, and any errors or “teething problems” on a technical front were resolved within a six-month span before the remaining gates were replaced throughout the airport in 2019 and 2020.
To use the system, users stand roughly one meter away and look at a mirrored glass pane, which sits in front of the camera. Travelers do not have to remove glasses or contact lenses for the system to work. The IrisID camera automatically positions itself to a user’s height, so travelers do not have to bend to ensure an accurate reading. The whole process takes between 11 and 12 seconds, Vink says.
Vink adds that using this system helps Privium avoid a queue building up around the passport gates and encourages social distancing, partly because there is some exclusivity structured into the membership program. The IrisID system at the gates also features a smaller footprint, enabling the airport to double the number of checkpoint lanes for passport and security checks without increasing the screening area’s footprint. The system incorporates both facial recognition and iris recognition for passengers traveling with a Privium membership, but the iris scan is used as the preferred biometric for Privium members due to its consistency and accuracy.
For those concerned with potential privacy issues, Privium and Schiphol adhere to EU regulations and legal requirements. The data collected by either Privium’s readers or the airport’s scanners is sent to the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, one of the country’s military branches, for individual automated border passage request approval.
Additionally, during membership enrollment, biometric data of members’ iris scans is saved in a new central biometric database instead of a on a chip in the member’s Privium card, a process approved by the Dutch data protection authority.
Vink says that Privium members seem to appreciate the contactless process that the organization has committed to—even as new cases of COVID-19 rose. While membership declined slightly in 2020 because of an overall downturn in travel due to the pandemic, Privium has retained most of its clientele due to the convenience of bypassing queues, social distancing, and touch-free solutions, he adds.
While the IrisID cameras offer security teams improved performance and reliability—plus allowing travelers to forgo fishing through luggage for a passport—Privium is seeing if there is a way its members could benefit from future scanners throughout the airport, including for non-security purposes.
Additional reporting contributed by Claire Meyer, managing editor at Security Management.