Selected travellers arriving at Heathrow airport may now bypass the customs queue and enter England by glancing into a camera.

Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and US firm EyeTicket are following what seems to be a trend, announcing last Friday a five-month trial of a self-service border passage system using iris recognition.

Up to 2,000 American transatlantic flyers who travel frequently with Virgin and British Airways will be invited to use the new system in London.

These travellers must have their irises scanned and their identity verified by the UK immigration service before they can use the service. Iris data will be stored in a central database, but separate from all other passenger information held by immigration and the airlines, the companies said.

PC Advisor staff writer Paul Rincon covers the implications and the future of iris recognition and biometrics in the April 02 issue of PC Advisor, in shops from 21 Feb.

Iris recognition is a form of 'biometric' identification, just as palm recognition, fingerprinting and facial scans are. Iris recognition is seen as one of the most reliable types because the iris, the coloured portion of the eye, never changes and is unique for each person.

Self-service immigration stations, dubbed JetStream, have been placed in the immigration halls of two Heathrow terminals. The barrier is opened and a border passage ticket is issued after looking into a camera about 25cm away.

Other European airports are running similar trials. Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, for example, has issued about 1,200 chip cards to nationals of the European Economic Area in a trial that started in October and is set to last a year. Users of the Dutch system carry their own iris information on the chipcard and can also use the system for departures.