Research in Practice: Observations and Surveys

In between my three “extreme interviewing Mondays” I have been to a European airport to conduct research for the FastPass project. The FastPass project aims to develop a harmonized, modular approach for Automated Border Control (ABC) gates. The first phase of the project focuses on key stakeholder needs and the documentation of operational-, system-, design- and security requirements to achieve more efficiency in all processes. The developed system should lead to harmonization of practices, positive passenger experience, and consistent security levels at different border crossing points (i.e. air, sea, land). Current installations and development projects are carefully examined to identify success factors and pitfalls. This means that we both observe and survey passengers using border control systems at several European airports and sea ports and that we interview border guards, staff representatives, ABC project & system managers, and border agency managers at these locations.

This week the emphasis has been on the passengers. For three days we had been granted permission to observe travellers using the automated border gates. We spent hours watching intently how travellers used ABCs in practice, taking notes of how they scanned their passports and went through the facial recognition system. We paid attention to the following issues: How do they approach the eGates (e.g. confident, hesitant)? Do they pay attention to the provided information leaflets? How easy/difficult do they find it to scan their passport? Do they know where to look to have their face scanned? Do they remove glasses and hats? How much luggage do they carry with them? Which part of the system causes problems? How often does the system reject people? Is help needed to get through the ABCs or are the gates easy to use without guidance? If help is needed, who provides it (e.g. other passengers, border guards, airport personnel)?

Besides observing the actual use of the system, we have also surveyed passengers about their experience with automated border control and biometric systems. We wanted to find out how they knew they were eligible to use the ABC’s, whether they were experienced or first-time users, why they chose to use the automated system instead of going through manual checkpoints, what problems they had encountered, and what their preferred biometric recognition method would be.

Our initial results show that there is clearly scope for a better designed system, with a more intuitive interface which will enhance the usability and increase the overall appeal of eGates for passengers.

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