We all are now acquiring RFID based ‘secure’ passports which are supposed to increase the security of our flying experience. Others have gone on about how these passports have actually given a false sense of security and in some respects have reduced the security of getting into and out of the country but this post is not about that.
I have now transitioned to one of these through an extremely annoying and overly expensive experience with the modern ‘passport office’ which has given me a chance to use one of the automated passport checking services on one of my regular trips. To be precise, I have used it twice. The first use simply failed to work at all despite multiple retries over a three minute period before I was ushered through the normal manual method. As I was travelling with a colleague with an old style passport, I came through to find him waiting after passing through the long queue on the old style person at a desk method. I put that down to a one off event.
The next time was also when travelling with a colleague so we could measure the effectiveness and efficiency again. This time I can say it worked without retries, although it still took almost 2 minutes to get through the face recognition and passport reading process, and still my colleague was found waiting for me at the other side despite there being a large queue on the manual approach. So in conclusion the RFID and Facial recognition mechanism is too slow and clumsy to ever work more quickly or even at the same speed as a person processing you.
So this is just a bad experience? No, it is demonstration of government inefficiency and waste with appalling technology choices. After all, I operate facial recognition to unlock my Android tablet (with blink detection) which operates in less than two seconds compared to the almost 1 minute that the facial recognition at passport control took to do EXACTLY the same thing with a better error rate. So much for picking the contractor with the lowest bid rather than the one that can actually do the job. Thankfully the British Government doesn’t put men in space (to their certain death).
Next time I will pick the queue to see the nice people at the desks and I recommend you do to