In a major development for the use of facial recognition technology at airports, Delta will enable the first fully biometric airport journeys in the U.S. in December. 

The "biometric terminal," as Delta is calling it, will be the international Terminal F at the carrier's primary hub at Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta. 

When the trial comes online, passengers departing from that terminal on Delta or its partners Aeromexico, Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM will have the option of submitting to a biometric identity verification through facial recognition at the check-in kiosk, then going hands-free all the way to the plane. Those passengers won't have to display a boarding pass or passport at bag check, security or the boarding gate. 

Similarly, arriving international passengers will be able to use biometric facial recognition technology for entry. 

"The launch of [Terminal] F is based on key learnings from years of biometric tests," Delta spokeswoman Kathryn Steele wrote in an email to Travel Weekly. "Through experience, observation and listening to feedback from our customers and employees, we'll not only hone the technology further but will identify the best places to use this technology in Atlanta and beyond."

The TSA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Hartsfield-Jackson airport are partnering with Delta on the project. 

Over the past few years, Delta has worked with CBP to test facial recognition boarding in Atlanta, Detroit and New York JFK. In addition, last year Delta tested self-service biometric bag drop at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The carrier also offers customers the option of entering its Sky Club lounges in partnership with Clear, the identity-authentication service that expedites passage through TSA security checkpoints.

Delta's new push into airport biometrics comes as the Orlando airport prepares this month to become the first in the U.S. to deploy facial recognition technology at its international gates. 

Chris Burt, a contributing editor for Toronto-based BiometricUpdate.com, which covers the global biometrics market, said that like the Orlando rollout, the Delta trial could have significant ramifications for the spread of biometric technology at U.S. airports. 

"If Delta sees the benefit here, I think we'll see a lot of deployments," Burt said. 

He noted, however, that regulatory hurdles from the Department of Homeland Security could slow widespread deployment. 

Advocates of more widespread use of facial recognition technology at airports say it will speed the time it takes passengers to maneuver from check-in to departure, reduce staffing costs and also enhance security. However, privacy advocates warn that the data captured through biometric checks could be misused by government agencies and could also be captured by hackers if it is not properly safeguarded. 

Delta's program in Atlanta will be optional. Those who do participate can start the process by providing their passport number while checking in via the Fly Delta app. 

Upon arrival at the airport, passengers head to a kiosk where they verify their passport, then submit to a photo. The photo is compared to passport information that CBP holds on file for identity verification. 

After that, flyers can keep their passports and boarding passes in their pockets. Instead, biometric cameras will be deployed at bag check, security and gates to check identity.

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