News, Technology

Are mobile passports the future of travel?

Millie Paine

Millie Paine, Journalist

Most aspects of our day-to-day lives have been simplified through the widespread adoption of smartphones, and travel is no exception.

Our mobiles have become the ultimate holiday companion, with hotel reservations, GPS mapping and mobile boarding passes making travel abroad a breeze. For many of us, our passports are the last remnant of a time where lugging a folder chock full of paper documents in our carry-on was just part and parcel of the holiday experience. It therefore seems logical to explore whether our smartphones could also take over this function too. 

Currently, the Mobile Passport app is already available for visitors entering the US and Canada. Travellers can submit passport and declaration information via their mobile devices, and receive a barcode for a separate fast-lane upon arrival at the inspection area. As customs queues in the US can often be alarmingly long, the app functions as an excellent time-saving solution that benefits both passengers and airport staff alike. The app also allows multiple passports to be approved through one QR code, which is particularly useful for groups or families travelling through the airport together. While a physical passport is still required for inspection, the app also saves the time required to fill out and inspect landing cards at customs.

This, however, is by no means a replacement for a passport; there are multiple risks to migrating passports to mobile en masse. For one, it would take an incredibly long time for the technology required to actually develop and accept mobile passports to be widespread enough for them to be valid at all destinations. The Mobile Passport app itself is so far only accepted in 26 US airports – rolling this out on a mass scale would take a lot of time, with the infrastructure likely to be expensive and unattainable for the majority of countries around the world. QR codes are also easier to forge, and open up the potential for identity theft and the misuse of personal data, and also pose greater security risks to airports. 

While mobile passports aren’t going to be replacing the paper documents any time soon, the possibility does allow us to consider other ways that technology can be used to make the travel process easier. Filling out landing cards via mobile, for example, would be a great way of saving time – particularly due to potential entry policy changes in the UK in the face of a possible no-deal Brexit. Furthermore, the fact that the Mobile Passport is able to provide access to information that is only available for a specific time period at a particular location can help to ease concerns over data privacy that arise as a result of more intrusive time-saving airport methods, like facial recognition and fingerprint identification.

As it stands, the Mobile Passport app does serve an incredibly useful function. Although only available in the US, replicating this technology elsewhere could save a significant amount of time. Even if it is not a direct replacement for a paper passport, the app does represent a large amount of potential for the future of travel technology.

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