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UK's Manchester Airport to Track Travelers with RFID

Manchester Airport has just wrapped a six-month traveler tracking trial. The airport used RFID tags to track 50,000 volunteers as they moved throughout the facility with the goal of measuring and improving the efficiency of airport operations.
Apr 12, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

April 12, 2007—British newspaper Telegraph reports that Manchester Airport, one of the UK's largest, has just wrapped a six-month passenger tracking trial. The airport used RFID tags to track 50,000 passenger volunteers as they moved throughout the facility with the goal of measuring and improving the efficiency of airport operations.

When the system is fully operational, boarding passes will be tagged at passenger check-in. If a passenger brings a pre-printed boarding pass from home, it will be tagged as the passenger passes through security. According to the airport's head of innovation, Yemmi Agbegi, the aim is to understand how efficient the security screening process is and how much time passengers spend after security before boarding their planes.

The airport was motivated to run the trial because of the upheaval caused if a single passenger cannot be found. If a passenger checks in but does not show up at the terminal, oftentimes the passenger's luggage is pulled from the plane's hold, a time consuming and labor intensive process. In the worst cases, it can result in the plane missing its turn to take off, forcing it to go to the back of the line. The article cites an instance of a missing passenger in London's Heathrow causing a 90-minute delay on a Frankfurt-bound flight.

While improved efficiency is the primary objective of the effort, there are also prospective security applications that the airport is exploring. One is using RFID to detect unauthorized entry of a person into prohibited areas of the airport. Another involves the automatic detection of an inert tag, which might suggest that it has been dropped or lost.

If the RFID system is deemed a success, similar ones will be deployed at other airports around the UK, including Heathrow.

It will be interesting to observe the public's reaction to being tagged. While most passengers would likely welcome shorter waits at airport security checks, they might not consider it worth being tracked by airport authorities. On the other hand, the public has long accepted that airports, like casinos, are one of those institutions in which privacy is left at the door.
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