This segment of holidays abroad is easily the most annoying. No one likes waiting, whether that is to come back home to our beds or to get out to the duty-free lounge and have a browse of perfumes and designer goods. In between holidaymakers and these destinations is passport control, and in recent years, these have become automated with the introduction of ePassport gates.
It’s definitely important to be so stringent with security checks and we wouldn’t request it any other way. We did, however, want to find out what is responsible for holding up these airport queues, and potentially who we should avoid if we want to get through that little bit quicker. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to start our holidays earlier is there?
What causes delays at ePassport gates?
Our security poster below (which may not be an official one) shows the signs you should look out for to avoid airport queues. If you’ve ever been held up at ePassport gates, now you know why...
We bet you didn’t think of all of those. But don’t just take our word for it, this data is based on research and discussions with visual recognition experts! Kevin Smith who is Head of Technology at facial recognition specialists, Credas, told us that “beards and facial hair in general are typically the most common causes of failure”. Kevin went on to tell us that “other factors such as significant weight loss or gain can also have an impact on the technology’s ability to find a match between a passenger’s passport photo and face.”
As you can see from the poster, plastic surgery and age can also have an effect on your holiday delays. For example, if you’re travelling with a teenager whose passport is from a number of years ago, be prepared for the ePassport gates to add minutes to your delay.
As well as permanent or long-term physical changes to your appearance, temporary changes to your appearance can impact efficacy. Being hungover also seems to be delaying holidaymakers. Gutted.
How could this affect UK holidaymakers?
According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request performed by Economy Class and Beyond, in 2017/2018, almost 48 million passengers passed through ePassport gates at airports up and down the UK, rising to 54.68 million in 2018/2019.
A secondary FOI request submitted by Feel Good Contacts uncovered further insight into how inefficient use of eGates can impact travel delays. Factoring in the sorts of delays included in the results, we can estimate how much time it costs UK travellers when these gates fail. If we estimate that a failed check adds on one minute to holidaymakers’ time and we’ve been told by Kevin Smith in 2019 that approximately one percent of people fail these checks, we can assume:
- 1% of 54.68m is 546,800 people
- This equates to 546,800 minutes
- Which is the same as 9,113 hours
- That’s just under 380 days a year!
While these figures make sense according to 2019, has the technology improved since? In 2023, according to a spokesperson from the Immigration Services Union, depending on the airport between 60-80% of passengers to the UK use eGates (ePassport control grates). With flights resuming post-COVID, passenger numbers have likely grown even more while the number of eGates in operation have also grown to match demand. In fact, ABI Research predicts that eGates market will increase from 1166 units globally in 2021 to 2473 units globally by 2027.
Who knew hipster beards could cause so much damage while we’re on our holidays? And with more and more countries adopting eGates, adding to 270+ gates across the 15 air and rail ports in the UK as well as Dublin’s eGates at Terminals 1 and 2, our queues may only get longer.
Let’s learn to work with these machines to make our journeys shorter and follow the advice provided.
Kevin Smith, head of technology at Credas
Matan Scharf, senior security solutions manager at Synopsys
FOI Data from Economy Class and Beyond
Whitepaper: Matty McMattface: Security implications, mitigations & testing strategies for biometric facial recognition systems
Guidance: Guide to faster travel through the UK border [Updated: May 2023]
BBC News: Anger over airports' passport e-gates not working [28th May 2023]
ABI Research: eGates for Border Control: Automating the Strenuous Process of Verifying Travelers’ Passports/Identities