The advent of the token

The advent of the token

From the coffee machines to the keynotes of the air transport industry, there’s a lot of talk about single token travel.

Ever since IATA introduced its vision in 2014 of a transformed door-to-door experience allowing the passenger to walk seamlessly through the airport without breaking stride, the air transport industry has looked eagerly towards biometric and more recently blockchain technologies to provide the answers.

It’s a meteoric challenge for the industry to deliver the ultimate, cross-industry ‘One Identity’ solution, as outlined at the 2016 World Passenger Symposium in an IATA white paper – to which SITA contributed. So what experiences is SITA bringing to this endeavor?

Towards the vision

With airport trials underway, SITA is making headway in realizing a passenger experience that entails getting from the airport entrance to the boarding gate ‘without breaking a stride’, according to Renaud Irminger, former Director of SITA Lab.

SITA’s Smart Path™ solution captures a passenger’s biometric details with a facial scan during an enrollment process at a kiosk or bag drop, whichever is the first touch point in the journey.

Once checked against the passenger’s travel documents, a secure single token is created and stored in a secure biometric database within the airport. It’s then used at every interaction through the airport, for the duration of the passenger’s journey, after which all biometric is deleted.

Whether it’s at self-bag drop, the security checkpoint, duty free shopping, border control or during aircraft boarding – the passenger is identified thanks to facial recognition, eliminating the need to show a passport or boarding pass and speeding up passenger flow. See below ‘Smart Path™ – a walkthrough experience’.

This approach is a simple, straightforward solution which is repeated for every flight journey and every airport on that journey.

Mobile token

Today, further work is underway by SITA Lab to create a reusable mobile token that can be stored securely on the passenger’s mobile device – instead of in an airport database – and then used in every airport. This would leave passengers in control of their data.

“Personally, as a frequent traveler I want to be able to walk into any airport world-wide, go through security and immigration, access the lounge and board my plane just by having my face recognized,” says Irminger.

“This is why we are investigating the development of a re-usable token.”

“There are extensive benefits in terms of security and convenience of the current ‘local’ and ‘one-time’ single token, but re-usability of the token in the future would extend these benefits even further.”

The design of a ‘global travel token’ would be such that the passenger only has to enroll once with the service to have their biometric, biographic and itinerary data captured and a token created.

With a certified digital identity stored securely on their mobile device, the traveler would have the option to simply re-use this identity for subsequent journeys.

Paving the way

This new development, when available, would pave the way for newer phases of the project that will allow the token to be recognized and used across many airports and ultimately across borders.

“Based on SITA’s trials of Smart Path™ single token travel in several airports, we’re now able to look into this next generation of token,” says Irminger.

“A first step is to consider how to create a single token on a mobile phone and how to use blockchain technology to make this token securely available in multiple airports and for various stakeholders across the journey.” 

For SITA Lab, that remains work on the cards, but once done then Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and Software Development Kits (SDKs) will be made available on to manage all functionality regarding the registration of the user identity, storage and encryption of biometric data.

Eventually it will include the interaction between the mobile device and airport equipment (kiosk, gate and security, for instance) as the concept of the token is accepted globally as the verified identity and ticket of the passenger.

Additional information may be added to the token for subsequent releases of the product, including visas, landing cards or ETAs (Electronic Travel Authorization).


Re-use or ‘re-enrollment’ is the process where passengers would simply click on their mobile device to share their biometrics with the global travel token service, before visiting an airport for a subsequent flight – and without needing to have it captured again at a kiosk.

This can be performed at any stage of the passenger journey, such as when booking a flight, checking in or in transit.

Of course, in the future there might also be an automatic setting to share with some or all airports depending on the passenger’s preferences.

A notification to prompt the passenger to re-enroll can be embedded into the booking/check-in workflow of an airline app and will be included as additional functionality in SITA’s own iTravel API workflows for booking and check-in.

In this use case, the period of time before the flight departure – normally the day of travel – is a critical issue as the biometric database, in which the biometric data is enrolled, can only be kept for a configurable period.

The period is usually 24 hours, which may terminate before the flight departs. Therefore, re-enrollment should only take place just before the departing flight.

The SITA FlightInfo API at can be integrated with the solution to retrieve the departure information for the flight being booked or checked in.


SITA’s exploration of blockchain as part of its Identity Management Community Innovation Program is due to the technology’s ability to provide a distributed ledger of tamper proof transactions, enabling multi-stakeholders to access information but maintain traveler data privacy.

“Working with Shocard, we’ve created a world premier prototype of this using blockchain,” says Irminger. “Blockchain technology offers by design strong privacy and security while making verification available to multiple stakeholders, which is why it's very much on the agenda of the finance industry of course.”

For a global single travel token capability, records of transactions in relation to the capture, encryption and storage of biometric data for the passenger – and all gate and border transactions – would be stored on the blockchain, allowing independent verification and further guaranteeing data integrity without compromising data privacy.


This creates an authenticated audit-trail of transactions which benefits from the following advantages:

  • Ensures that all transactions are complete and accurate and not tampered with
  • Passenger activities in relation to all registered journeys are available for verification by any government or border agency or third party
  • Provides immutable proof of activities for subsidiary applications such as frequent flier, airport lounges and shopping
  • Enables analysis of airport journey, performance, throughput, experiences, and so on

Community innovation program

This research by SITA Lab is conducted as part of the Identity Management Community Innovation Program. SITA Lab has formed a team of six architects and developers, working under Program Manager Sherry Stein. 

“We have a total of nine research projects under the program,” she says, “including re-usable travel token which is the most challenging but also the most impactful.”


The single token or 'One Identity' is going to be the key for creating a true end-to-end passenger facilitation process for all stakeholders at an airport.

It must therefore be accepted as the true and trusted identity of the traveler across all frontiers, in order to facilitate a smooth and seamless journey for the passenger and to optimize the throughput of passengers.

As SITA Lab continues to investigate the various technology architectures, encryption mechanisms and hardware to cater for the varying levels of complexity and global industry adoption of the solution, the following criteria will need to be explored and conceptualized thoroughly:

  • Phasing of storage and distribution of identities in global biometric systems to the ultimate and unique storage of a verified identity on a passenger’s mobile device
  • Requirement for non-notarized to fully notarized registration and enrollment with the system
  • Addition of data to the identity token (biometric, passport, single boarding pass, multiple boarding pass, visa, ETS, multiple identities, and so on)
  • Secure and high speed transferal of the identity token to gate and other check point interaction hardware

Early days

“It’s very early days but as we test, develop and further test our prototype with governments and security agencies, we’ll also be aiming to create a global identity framework” concludes Irminger.

What’s clear is that IATA’s vision of a walkthrough experience of the journey is becoming a reality, and that reality will be ever more seamless and convenient as we explore new generations of single token travel.

Smart Path™ – a walkthrough experience

SITA’s evolving passenger processing portfolio now includes its SITA Smart Path™ technology, launched in 2016.

This innovative development, now being trialed in airports, allows passengers to move through the airport and board the aircraft simply by presenting themselves for a biometric check.

Once verified there’s no need for the passenger to present a boarding pass, a passport or travel documents again.

Single token

The passenger’s biometric details are captured through a facial scan at the first touch point in the journey.

The scanned image is checked against the digital image stored within the passenger’s travel document, typically the e-passport, and then combined with the passenger’s boarding pass information to create a secure single token.

Then, at each step of the journey – from check-in, to aircraft boarding or border control – passengers gain access simply with a facial scan and without having to show their passport or boarding pass.

Simple, fast, secure

SITA Smart Path™ puts a simple, fast and secure walkthrough experience within reach of all passengers today. Unlike other offerings, this can be easily integrated into existing multi-airline airport infrastructure and airline systems.

This includes standard common-use, self-service equipment already in use across the industry such as CUSS check-in kiosks, multi-airline bag drop units, gates for secure access, boarding and automated border control, making rapid deployment easy and cost-effective.

Smart Path™ also integrates with government systems and databases, allowing integrated immigration and border checks.

SITA is currently working with a number of major airlines and airports to integrate biometrics into the passenger journey and expects that by 2020 passengers using biometrics will be the norm at airports across the world.

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