Virgin Atlantic Airways and British Airways, together with US technology company EyeTicket, have announced a five-month trial of a self-service border passage system using iris recognition.
Up to 2,000 American transatlantic flyers who travel frequently with Virgin and British Airways will be invited to use the system at Heathrow. These travellers must have their irises scanned and their identity verified by the UK immigration service before they can use the service. The iris data will be stored in a central database, but separate from all other passenger information held by immigration and the airlines, the companies said.
Self-service immigration stations, dubbed JetStream, have been placed in the immigration halls of two Heathrow terminals. The barrier is opened and a border passage ticket is issued after looking into a camera about centimetres away.
Other European airports are running similar trials. Amsterdam's Schiphol airport has issued about 1,200 chip cards to nationals of the European Economic Area in a trial that started in October and is set to last a year. Users of the Dutch system carry their own iris information on a chipcard and can also use the system for departures.
Iris recognition is seen as one of the most reliable types of biometric identification because the iris, the coloured portion of the eye, never changes and is unique for each person.