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.