New Etihad Check-In Kiosks Can Detect If You’re Sick

Filed Under: Etihad

There are a lot of questions about whether travel — or life, for that matter — will ever return to normal?

Is this temporary, or…?

While sheltering in place is hopefully temporary, I know a lot of us wonder if things will eventually return to normal, or if this is simply the start of a new era.

Just as 9/11 changed lots of aspects of aviation (from security screening, to liquids restrictions, to protecting cockpits, to being asked silly questions at check-in), will this change aspects of aviation in the long run as well? Will social distancing become the new normal? Will people be more concerned about germs when flying?

Will coronavirus be an ongoing part of our world that we’ll just eventually have better testing and a vaccine for? Will our airport check-in experience eventually include a COVID-19 test?

Etihad’s innovative new check-in kiosks

Etihad Airways is trialing new check-in kiosks at their Abu Dhabi hub, starting at the end of April, and also throughout May 2020. They will initially use volunteers, and as flights continue to resume, outbound passengers.

What makes Etihad’s new check-in kiosks special? They’re trialing new technology that will be able to identify travelers with medical conditions, potentially including the early stages of COVID-19.

Etihad is the first airline to trial this technology, which will be able to monitor the temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate of any person using the machine. This concept could be extended to other airport touch points, from information kiosks, to bag drop facilities, to security checkpoints, to immigration gates.

This is being done in partnership with Australian company Elenium Automation. The system will automatically suspend self-service check-in or bag drop if a passenger’s vital signs indicate potential symptoms of illness. It will then lead to either a teleconference, or alert staff on site, who can make further assessments about the traveler’s ability to fly.

Elenium is also working with Amazon Web Services to develop hands free technology, so that people can check-in through voice recognition and more.

In general I’d love to see less need to touch things at airports. For example, I’m disgusted every time I have to be fingerprinted when entering a country, when they clearly never clean the fingerprint scanner.

At the same time, I’m not sure voice recognition is a great alternative — you’ll then be loudly saying your name, passport number, confirmation number, etc., for those around you to hear, which seems like it could create all kinds of new problems.

Bottom line

I don’t think travel will ever be exactly the same as it was before. Just as 9/11 was a defining moment for global aviation, I do think this will also change some big-picture things in the industry.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of health screening added to the check-in experience long term, and I think Etihad’s check-in kiosk concept is a step in that direction.

If nothing else, I hope that all of this leads to airports and airplanes just being cleaner places.

To what extent do you think we’ll see long-term changes to aviation in terms of health, cleanliness, etc.? Is this all short-term, or are there some things being picked up here that will stick?

  1. The biggest problem with this health check is that it has a huge risk of stranding people away from home if say they got some very mild allergies abroad (which is extremely common), or developed some symptoms due to partying too hard etc.

    Plus, this health check-up might mean that many older or fat people can never fly at all (they are mostly healthy but just have a little bit of heavy breathing naturally).

    I don’t see the airport staff overriding whatever the system says. Then what? People who are fat or old can never fly? There’s always this big hanging sword over healthy people that their expensive trip can be derailed due to some ill-timed allergies that typically we all power through?

  2. @ Greg — I would assume that no final decisions would be made based on the kiosk, but rather that there would be a qualified medical professional who can make an assessment of a passenger’s ability to fly. I would imagine this would be no different than being sent to secondary at security, so this is just an initial test that may cause certain travelers to undergo additional screening.

  3. There will be some changes, and I think the COVID-19 test for travel would actually be a good thing until there’s a vaccine (especially good if there’s a quick test). But I for one will not want to be ruled by fear for the rest of my life. Likely many feel similarly. The roaring twenties immediately followed the Spanish Flu after all, and that killed far more people than COVID-19 likely will.

  4. Yeah this is not something that would work in the US. Even biometric boarding is controversial to some. Also this system would have to be HIPAA compliant.

  5. “monitor the temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate of any person using the machine.”So let’s assume you just landed and you are about to miss your connection. It is a hot day and once you leave the plane you sprint through the airport trying to make it to the connecting gate. You arrive at tis kiosk and and you are sweating, your heart rate is though the roof and you are basically out of breath after running like crazy. I wonder what this machine will decide about you.

  6. You can have COVID 19 for days before any of the symptoms show. Rendering this new “technology “ useless

  7. Airline staff are not physicians. If it’s clear someone is unwell that’s one thing , however information based on a machine an airport …? It could be at hot day and you’ve been running. Your heart rate is up
    Not everything is covid 19.
    Then in Abu Dhabi there’s probably no legislation relating to discrimination As in most gulf countries so you have no grounds to complain

  8. What about data privacy? What will the airlines do with all the personal data they collect? Sell a combined health /passenger info dataset to the highest bidder? No thank you, I pass on EY.

  9. @Abey – Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While you’re entirely correct that one can have and spread this disease (and many respiratory diseases) while asymptomatic, it’s not “useless” to screen for actual symptoms either. It’s still pretty likely that most people are much more contagious when they are symptomatic (even if they don’t notice the symptoms like elevated BP or a slight fever). So if a fairly noninvasive health screening can catch even 50% of sick passengers passing through an airport, that cuts down the potential spread of a disease by a ton. It’s also really useful to detect a cluster of sickness in a particular city or flight, if the number of fevers counted over a certain period of time increases past a known baseline.

  10. @Santastico – if your HR and temp was briefly elevated due to running, it should fall again within just a few minutes. So, yes, you’d likely have to wait until it showed that it was falling back to normal. And yes, that might take a few minutes, and add connection time. Plenty of stuff changed and make airport processes longer after 9/11; the same kinds of changes are in store for aviation in this new pandemic era too.

  11. @reed I agree that this will be a useful tool in the future, but on the current coronavirus I think it is reckless to start flying again and rely on this “technology” to keep pax safe. I understand that airlines and gov’s are anxious to start flying again but they need to be smart and listen to the scientists otherwise we might find ourselves in the same situation very quickly

  12. @Abey Just remember, the effective reproduction number of an infectious disease doesn’t need to be 0 to stop a pandemic, anything that’s less than 1, sustained over time, will slowly stop the pandemic. No one is “relying” on one technology, but this is another measure that will get us closer to Re < 1.

    Many Asian countries already have disease control measures at immigration, before CoViD 19. Taiwan had a very prominent temp measuring station before immigration, after you get off the plane. Hong Kong monitors passenger temps as well. The West has been woefully negligent in that respect.

    Things will change, but I just hope it's in a reasonable, controlled and effective manner, unlike the TSA security theater.

  13. In many Asian countries all passengers are thermoscanned upon arriving. Most don’t even realize it. Running to catch a flight may elevate your blood pressure and respiratory rate but would not cause a 101 degree fever. It all depends on the parameters used in the screening process. Also, given the number of people with undiagnosed or neglected hypertension, screening out people with excessively high blood pressure could be life saving. Again, it all depends on the parameters. Of course the skill of the screener is just as important .

  14. I agree that symptom testing is not enough. It needs to be an actual coronavirus test, assuming we can get one that’s faster than 3-5 days and can be done outside of a lab. Also it’s probably better to check before getting on the plane rather than on arrival, come to think of it. Or can be either depending on where you live.

  15. I wonder if Elenium intends to market this technology to customs and immigration for scanning arriving passengers for anxiety that might suggest a passenger is violating the law. A sort of lie detector/behavioral detection officer.

  16. Abey – Don’t be so ridiculous. It means the system isn’t infallible, not that’s useless…

  17. @Ben,
    I think you are being naive here – as Greg says, companies will be hugely reluctant to let staff override the computer, and they won’t pay to have lots of doctors around.

    I guess we need to start lobbying insurance companies to specifically include cover for “denied boarding due to check-in machine objecting to lack of perfect health” and so encourage the insurance companies to have robust discussions with airlines?

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