Off abroad any time soon? Not looking like that, you're not!

The eGates at arrivals have revolutionised air travel around the world. Instead of queuing for hours, Kiwi's travelling on biometric ePassports now pass through airports with ease.

Chances are you've used one: passing through the passport scanner, mug shot and swing doors to your destination.

And they're opening up these automated lanes for ever more passengers, from countries around the world.


When it was announced that New Zealanders were one of seven nationalities that were being invited to use the eGates at UK airports, passengers were delighted.

Kiwis can now bypass Heathrow's notoriously torturous customs border with a microchipped passport and a smile.

But, not so fast!

Machines are being trained to recognise passengers from awful passport photos taken ten years ago, which is a frightening thought.

They can now do this with almost 99% accuracy.

However, there are flaws in this seemingly perfect system which can lead to delays and some embarrassment for travellers.

Face off: Hangovers, tiredness and weight gain cause facial recognition problems. Photo / Supplied
Face off: Hangovers, tiredness and weight gain cause facial recognition problems. Photo / Supplied

This is not a random.

There are many things that can change the appearance of a passenger, and some of them are more obvious than you think.


Facial-recognition and cybersecurity experts they have identified eight factors that can cause eGates to reject passengers.

According to Kevin Smith of facial recognition specialist Credas, the plague of hipster neckbeards has caused havoc with the robotic Border force.

"While beards and facial hair in general are typically the most common causes of failure," says Kevin.

"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."

Some passengers have reported eGate rejection after one too many beers.

Among the other factors that can delay your departure are hangovers, tiredness and weight gain. That's a big Catch 22 for most returning from holiday.

More obvious problems for biometric passports include plastic surgery, piercings and facial tattoos.

It's estimated around 1 per cent of passengers fail facial recognition tests due to the above, which is impressive.

However, of the 54.7 million passengers that used eGates to enter the UK, this represents half a million passengers.

UK-based contact lens company Feel Good Contacts commissioned this research into eGates - and were quick to point out that glasses were another top factor for delays.

"Facial recognition is no doubt one of the most important developments in airport security," Feel Good's MD Nimesh Shah said about the research.

Last year, Qantas launched a trial for
Last year, Qantas launched a trial for "passportless" departures. Photo / Supplied

While passengers can just as quickly remove their glasses as put in contacts to avoid delay, the company is right about the importance of facial recognition to air transport.

What seems like a futuristic novelty will eventually be unavoidable. And this change will come about much sooner than we think.

Last year Qantas launched a trial programme for "passportless" departures using facial recognition technology.

In the States, JetBlue was one of the early adopters for the technology, scanning the faces of over 150000 international passengers allow for ticketless check-in and boarding.

While privacy-conscious passengers are sceptical of airlines building databases of passenger's details – the horse has already bolted from the proverbial eGate.

Facial recognition in air travel has arrived, and will only gain in importance.

According to the US Department of Homeland Security in the next four years facial recognition will cover 97 per cent passengers departing American airports.

All air passengers can do now is join the customs queue to this "brave new world", and relax.

(Stress and extreme emotions also delay eGate recognition. Sorry.)