Five Minutes to the Boarding Gate: How Technology is Improving Airport Efficiency

Advanced biometric identity products can help improve safety, security, and efficiency in a number of different industries. In the travel industry, Immigration services in airports have been adopting biometric identity products to reduce queues and move more passengers through safely and securely.  

It was a Friday afternoon and at 6:30pm, and I was still in the Uber. My flight to Amman, Jordan was leaving at 7:1 0pm, and I was sitting in deadlocked traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, UAE. It would be another 10-20mins of traffic until I reached the airport. Luckily, I arrived at the airport at 6:45pm and reached the end of the boarding queue at 6:50pm just in time to make my flight. The 5 minute door to queue commute would not have been possible without with my UAE e- gate card (and Mizuno running shoes).



With 77 million passengers in 2015, Dubai International Airport (DXB) remained the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic for the second year in a row. DXB was followed by London’s Heathrow (70M passengers) and Hong Kong International Airport (68M passengers) [1]. Between 2015 and 2014, DXB experienced a 10.7% increase in passenger traffic [2]. The passenger growth at DXB has been largely driven by increased business traveler traffic for travelers connecting through Asia and Africa and increased regional tourism. Growing passenger traffic had pushed Dubai International Airport to implement the E-gate system.


Dubai implemented it’s e-gate system to increase to improve the speed and convenience of immigration arrival and departure services of frequent passengers and also the overall throughput of passengers.E-Gate is the biometric immigration card that allows passengers to move through immigration in 3-5 mins [3]. The passenger is able to scan their e-gate card, and validate their identity using a thumb print.E-gate makes it efficient for UAE residents to get in and out of Dubai airport quickly, and also minimizes the immigration queues for passengers who are not able to access e-gate due to passport restrictions.



With the ubiquity of international air travel and the frequent passage of travelers and workers across massive number of land border checkpoints, biometrics can play a key role in improving travel flow and supporting commerce while increasing security and efficiency of government resources. The Dubai International Airport serves as a great case for where biometrics has been largely beneficial not only for the airport and airlines, but also the passengers, who often time waste hours waiting in immigration queues, which could be spent in the departure city or shopping in duty free.

As borders are highly diverse by nature, from massive airports and land borders to mobile checkpoints and remote crossings, high throughput and mobile biometric capabilities each play a vital role. Integration of solutions, including iris, fingerprint, and face biometric modalities supports these diverse use cases, and offers the ability to transition over time from broadly used but less accurate approaches to newer and more effective technologies.  AOptix Technologies and Tascent, the technology providers for Dubai e-gate have been working on rolling out iris scanning technology to improve safety and efficiency in the immigration at Dubai and other international airports [4].



Critical component in reducing queues at the airport was ensuring that a critical mass of  frequent travelers who are both residents of the UAE or residents of different qualifying countries was aware of and enrolled in the e-gate system. It is easy to design a great technological solution, but friction in implementation can make it so there is not enough adoption. A main reason why implementation of e-gate was so successful in Dubai was because the government has an ownership stake in both Emirates Airline (the largest airline carrier using the airport) and Dubai International Airport. The Dubai government is then able to use both entities to facilitate communication and enrollment of e-government programs with airline passengers.  In order to ensure customers are aware of and enrolled in the e-gate system there is heavily coordination between Emirates Airline—the airline mails enrollment instructions to all loyalty card “Skywards members”. In other international airports, the airline may be privately owned with little coordination with government services or have multiple airline carriers to coordinate with.  This makes the process for communicating proper immigration requirements and procedures to customers before, after and during their flights highly fragmented and difficult to coordinate.

The implementation of the technology also allowed the airport to use staff more efficiently. They were able to have more people at the security checkpoints scanning luggage and throughout other parents of the airport.



Tascent, the partner company for DXB’s technology has since utilized iris scan technology in Gatwick Airport in London [5]]. The installation utilizes InSight Duo iris recognition systems to facilitate travel and reduce queuing times for thousands of travelers each day. The increased use of technology in airport immigration and departure services is increasing. It will only be a matter of time before everyone is having an iris scan and moving through boarders with minimal human interaction.


(799 words)





Digitized Hotels or Staffless Hotels? That Is the Question for Hilton Worldwide


Digitizing Our Homes

Student comments on Five Minutes to the Boarding Gate: How Technology is Improving Airport Efficiency

  1. Nikki, I found this post to be a very unique answer to how different industries, in this case state-owned airports and airlines, are improving upon their customer promise by employing novel digitization techniques. One additional reason why biometric identity products should be implemented across more airports is because for every minute a passenger saves in the security line, there is a multiplier effect on the amount a customer spends at the airport on dining and entertainment while waiting to board his/her flight [1]. Thus, companies like Tascent should prove a real, measurable ROI to airports on implementing technologies like iris recognition systems, that demonstrates how airports can boost non-aeronautical revenues through implementation of these types of biometric technologies.

    [1] Chris O’Malley. Indianapolis Business Journal. Accessed November 2016.

  2. Thanks for the post Nikki! I once spent a lot of time in airports so am always glad to discover innovations that make the security and immigration processes less painful. The part that captures my imagination the most is application of this technology to other contexts. You can use the same technology to streamline any process that involves ID verification – from entering your home to registering to vote.

    One piece that gives me pause is the need for a centralized information database to store this information. Concentrating that kind of data with one provider is very risky, and distributing it amongst providers is irritating (the same problem customers experience with having too many logins for different websites).

    There’s also a social implication – what happens to those TSA workers once their jobs are obsolete? As the TSA is a government agency, the answer isn’t as straightforward as it would be for a private company.

  3. This is such a great post, Nikki! As a (very frequent) user of Dubai’s e-gate, I can attest first hand to how incredibly amazing this technology is. Not only does it make for a faster, smoother, and overall better traveling experience, it actually sways me to pick DXB as a favourite airport. This may not mean much alone, but essentially, whenever I have options in layover, I will often choose Dubai. Even when ticket prices may be slightly higher, knowing how simple transits and movement is with e-gate increases my willingness to pay for the ticket. Right now, the e-gate is only available for residents of the UAE as well as members of Emirates’ frequent flyer program. My concern with this technology is its potential in terms of expansion. Is it possible for all 70+ million passengers to use this? Or should it be available to them? As I see it, e-gate is a paid-for benefit (even if you meet requirements, you do pay to have one). If everyone had an e-gate card and iris scanning were available for all 70+ million people, would it actually successfully decrease the ridiculously long immigration lines? If not, how far can this technology expand in this industry?

  4. Thanks God for the UAE e-gate card! I agree with you that biometric scanning can reduce bottlenecks at the airport. Many times the UAE e-gate card proved to be a great asset to me. The regular price one needs to pay for the e-gate card is around 200-300 dirhams which is around $50. I got mine through the airline with my Skywards status. The staff at the airport was always around the gates and was willing to help me whenever I had an issue to get through the e-gate.

    The e-gate system is very safe. First, one needs to register with the UAE authorities to obtain the card. My finger prints and eyes were scanned, I spent about 15 minutes at the airport getting my card. Second, my e-gate was swiped every time I passed the airport. This data is interconnected with the UAE police department and any other government organization that needs this information to track the passengers. Therefore, the UAE government monitors the movement at the airports and in the country very well. I believe many countries should follow this example and invest in the technology.

  5. Thanks for the post Nikki! I haven’t had the experience of trying e-gate, but going through the pain of immigration I can totally see its advantage!

    My only concern is with data protection. First, it scares me that the government can store such high a level of information of its residents, and I wonder what steps Dubai is taking in terms of data protection. First, what is the government using the data for? I’m fine as long as it’s simply to check my identity. But I don’t feel very comfortable knowing that policies can change, and all the data is out there. Second, in these days it seems that hackers manage to access almost any piece of data they are after. What would happen if my personal attributes were to be leaked? Could they be used against me?

    I still believe biometrics are the way of the future, but I will think very thoroughly to whom I am willing to give up this data. Government agencies are one thing, but private companies are another (eg: I’m not sure I would let an airline know my fingerprint, even if it meant paperless boarding – I don’t trust these corporations to protect my data properly). I hope that the right measures are taken to protect my data.

  6. Nikki, thanks for this post! While I was living in Doha, Qatar also implemented a new e-gate system for Qatari citizens and residents (they usually don’t wait too long to follow in Dubai’s footsteps!). I can also attest that it was a life saver in Qatar, where the lines were dramatically shorter for everyone, and I didn’t have to replace my passport as frequently since residents also don’t have to get a stamp for each re-entry. Like Jose, however, I’m excited about the opportunities, but also worry about the security. I understand why the use of biometric data and digital technology can enhance security, but on the other hand, I worry that electronic databases of personal data for large numbers of people are also vulnerable to cyber attacks, which seem to be increasing. Arguably, passports and other existing immigration systems aren’t any more secure, but what new “doors” might the technology open for hackers trying to manipulate the system? I agree that this is the future of immigration control, but I also hope the authorities are being thoughtful about the challenges as well as the opportunities, and putting the right safeguards in place. When I was in Doha, there were many times when the iris scan didn’t work properly, but after a few tries, the system would let me enter – presumably because it had already processed my finger print. I’m sure the technology will improve over time, but nothing is perfect, and we always need to keep that in mind.

  7. Thanks Nikki. I am an enormous advocate for any innovation, whether it’s through technology or operational processes, that increases the efficiency at airports. E-gates have been remarkably effective in Australia and New Zealand, speeding up immigration processing for locals. As long as data protection is carefully protected from threats, I hope all airports quickly adopt similar technology.

  8. Nikki! I am responding because I thought that your article was super and I am very interested in the logistics of airports. A secondary motivation was that I wanted to give the perspective of a non-ex-consultant…

    My concern with the finger printing is that terrorists and illegal immigrants will be able to access the technology to mimic someone else’s fingerprint and with the huge number of people travelling, each individual passing through an airport will not be able to be checked, and the fraudulent activity will go unnoticed. I would almost wait longer in the passport control queue!

  9. Thanks for a great post Nikki! My experience at the Dubai airport has been fantastic and your post helps me understand the reason behind it so thank you!
    On a related note, I wanted to share about how Singapore’s Changi airport has managed to deliver the best customer experience for several years in a row ( In my experience, Singapore airport has allowed me to reach my gate within 5 minutes of reaching the airport because they are operationally superior than other airports. They have decentralized their security checking process, which is usually the bottleneck, and moved it to each individual boarding gate. While this increases the number of staff required for security checking, overall security goes up (given you are checked just before boarding the plane) and overall time to the gate is reduced. I hope to see more airports take inspiration from this process.

  10. Really interesting post, Nikki! Although I understand some of the concerns raised about the potential for terrorist groups/other parties with questionable interests to develop ways to circumvent biometric controls, I would expect that similar risks exist for traditional paper-passport immigration controls. I accidentally ran my passport through the washing machine a couple years back, and despite my photo being incredibly faded, I was never given any trouble when passing through immigration control. My suspicion is that people have been able to fool the immigration systems we currently have in place at most airports, by impersonating the individual the document was issued to or by creating modified or fake passports. A biometric screening system would most likely result in far greater accuracy, not to mention the obvious efficiency improvements you highlighted in your post. I would love to see this technology adopted at more high-traffic international airports like JFK and Heathrow where I can imagine a lot of us have wasted more hours that we would ever want to admit!

  11. Also as a frequent user of the Dubai E-gate system, I can attest to how efficient and fast it is, allowing me to spend more time in the duty free; everybody wins! You mentioned the role of e-government programmes; the UAE has overall been very effective in rolling this out in the past few years. If you live in Dubai, for instance, obtaining a driver’s license, health insurance or incorporating a company can all be done using your biometric card, with data available to all different entities through the e-government system. Thanks for the post Nikki!

  12. Thanks for this interesting post! After flight cancelations and delays, queueing is the most painful process at any airport. Many posted concerns about data protection, but I think in this case benefits more than offset potential concerns. Yes, we do need to take steps to securely store biometric identities. I do not have any knowledge on this, but I think most of our information is already out there. We read every day that information is stolen from many companies, governments, etc. It seems for now that hacking a bank account, email account, or any other information that we already have online is a lot easier than using our biometrics.

Leave a comment