Long queues at airports for baggage drops and security checks could soon be a thing for the past for Chinese travelers.
That lengthy process is gradually changing, and has already improved in many places in the past year, and future smarter airports are expected to shorten the wait before passengers can take off for their business trips or vacations.
"We aim to achieve a totally paperless boarding process. Now, passengers can board by showing their e-boarding passes and identity documents.
"Ultimately, facial recognition could serve as the only means of identification and be applied to the entire journey after the initial validation of a passenger's identity," Liang Jia, deputy manager of ancillary services at the e-commerce division of China Southern Airlines, said.
"Before flights take off, we will automatically carry out online checking for those who didn't select seats by themselves and send e-boarding passes to passengers. Now, such services have been launched in 22 cities, including Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen," she added.
On Jan 1, China Southern, the largest airline by fleet size in Asia, started online seat selections for all domestic flights, lending a green touch to travel. So far, more than 77 percent of domestic passengers choose to select their seats online in advance.
Guangzhou-based China Southern said it is carrying out research into the development of advanced automated bag-drop machines by deploying more of them at domestic airports. Those machines would also weigh luggage and charge fees for overweight luggage.
"The digital process will help airlines to better manage data and information, and it will also help with more precise notifications and marketing to passengers," she said.
China Southern said security check gates will be able to obtain the biometric information of passengers and combine it with their security checking results. The data would then be provided to boarding gates. When boarding, the facial recognition machines will retrieve security check results, and passengers won't need to show their documents again.
Meanwhile, Shenzhen International Airport started a pilot project in December to test differentiated security check processes, following a request by the Civil Aviation Administration of China earlier last year.
Shenzhen airport said it has upgraded its security equipment to meet the demand from passengers for security checks and the need to reach international safety requirements.
"We have introduced millimeter wave human body checking equipment. Stricter security checks are required for known drug users and passengers with criminal records," said Li Yuanjing, deputy manager of the passenger security check team at Shenzhen airport.
"Passengers who have good safety credit records, based on big data provided by the aviation and public security authorities, will have access to faster security checks," she said.
From December last year to March, more than 230,000 passengers with good credit records experienced faster security checks at Shenzhen airport.
They spent an average of 2 minutes and 56 seconds waiting, and it takes 5 minutes and 5 seconds in total for security checks, which increased its efficiency by more than 60 percent compared with regular lanes, according to Shenzhen airport.
By 2024 or 2025, China is expected to surpass the United States to become the largest air transport market globally, a forecast by the International Air Transport Association said.
Its recent global passenger survey found that passengers want more self-service options along with efficient and seamless travel experiences. For instance, 45 percent of air travelers choose biometric identification as a replacement for their passports. This is preferred mostly by younger passengers between 15 and 44 years old.