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After testing fingerprint boarding at Washington’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) and facial recognition boarding in Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) and New York (JFK), Delta is pushing its biometric endeavors into the stratosphere by launching the “first biometric terminal in the United States.” Starting later in 2018, international customers can use facial recognition technology from curb to gate at ATL’s Terminal F — a bit of wizardry that, in addition to its other biometric experiences, DL is dubbing “Delta Biometrics.” And, before you freak out, let it be known that the service is 100% optional.

facial recognition boarding delta
Delta guiding customer through facial recognition boarding during a test at DTW. (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Starting Oct. 15, 2018 at boarding gates and Dec. 1, 2018 at all other touch points, customers flying from Atlanta direct to an international destination will “have the option of using facial recognition technology from curb to gate.”

The optional, end-to-end Delta Biometrics experience includes using facial recognition technology to:

  • Check-in at the self-service kiosks in the lobby
  • Drop checked baggage at the counters in the lobby (similar to what Delta tested at MSP last year)
  • Serve as identification at the TSA checkpoint
  • Board a flight at any gate in Terminal F
  • And, go through CBP processing for international travelers arriving into the US

Wilder still, the above rundown even applies to passengers traveling on SkyTeam partner airlines Aeromexico, Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic out of ATL’s Terminal F. Sadly, international flights departing from ATL’s Terminal E aren’t yet included.

delta facial recognition
Notice the new “Look” option at Delta’s check-in kiosks. (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Delta is even going so far as to credit its frontline employees for making the magic possible, stating that their input “has been key to move facial recognition from testing to this full-scale launch — they’ve provided invaluable feedback on everything from the best camera angle for a successful scan to an added device enhancement that better facilitates face-to-face interactions with customers.” The airline is looking for the facial recognition tech, which was developed by NEC Corporation, to save up to nine minutes per flight.

How It Works

Customers flying direct to an international destination from Atlanta’s Terminal F wanting to use this option simply:

  • Enter their passport information when prompted during online check-in.
    • Forgot to enter passport information in advance? Don’t worry — this option will be available at the terminal after an initial passport scan and verification.
  • Click “Look” on the screen at the kiosk in the lobby, or approach the camera at the counter in the lobby, the TSA checkpoint or when boarding at the gate.
  • Breeze through once the green check mark flashes on the screen.
    • Travelers will need to have their passports available and should always bring their passports when they travel internationally for use at other touch points during their trip.

If customers do not want to participate, they just proceed normally through the airport.

Also at ATL Terminal F, customers can take advantage of Computed Tomography (CT) scanners at two automated screening lanes, which are being installed in partnership with the TSA and the airport. This means travelers won’t have to take out electronics from their bags at the TSA checkpoint, further enabling a smooth travel experience.

Bottom Line

Delta Air Lines has teamed up with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to unveil a shockingly seamless and comprehensive solution. Beyond the magic of being able to board a commercial aircraft using just your face, perhaps the most impressive part of Thursday’s news is the sheer logistics of it. Getting five massive airlines, the world’s busiest airport and two government agencies to align on anything at all is a feat some would’ve deemed impossible.

It’s also a major milestone in the march to securing just about everything using tough-to-fake biometrics. While the technology world was up in arms about Apple’s transition from Touch ID to Face ID on its newest range of iPhones, it’s clear that facial recognition is here to stay. Select Marriott hotels have already enabled facial check-in, British Airways enabled facial screening at LAX and Lufthansa boarded an Airbus A380 in 20 minutes by scanning faces. Facial recognition was a hot topic when TPG himself interviewed the Head of Customs and Border Protection last year, and with biometric companies such as CLEAR permeating airports and sporting venues, one has to assume that ever more terminals will go fully biometric in the months to come. In fact, it’s already possible for CLEAR members to enter Delta’s US network of SkyClub lounges using just a fingerprint.

facial recognition delta detroit
Delta passenger using facial recognition during testing at DTW. (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

We wouldn’t expect the high-tech touch points to end once you’re in the air, either. In addition to implementing RFID bag tracking for checked luggage, Delta is looking to intelligently round up customer data into a “single view” of their likes, dislikes, preferences and even their prior experiences in order to make your interactions with onboard personnel that much more personal. We’ll be on the lookout for a start date, and will surely be first in line to test things out from ATL’s Terminal F later this year.

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