Airlines turn to facial recognition technology ahead of holiday rush

(NEW YORK) — The travel industry is gearing up for what could be its busiest season since the coronavirus pandemic began, and at least one U.S. airline is aiming to make things quicker and easier — one face at a time.

Delta Air Lines is just days away from launching a first-of-its-kind pilot program that will implement facial recognition technology at two of America’s largest airports — in Atlanta and Detroit.

The Atlanta-based company partnered with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to create a completely touchless experience, from bag drop to security to boarding.

“So is this the future of flying?” asked ABC News transportation correspondent Gio Benitez.

“This is the future in so many ways,” replied Ranjan Goswami, Delta’s senior vice president of customer experience. “Basically, we want to make the airport experience as effortless as possible. What does that mean? Getting out of lines, not having to stop discombobulated.”

To participate in the voluntary pilot program, passengers must have TSA pre-check and be a member of Delta’s loyalty program.

When participating passengers arrive at the airport’s bag drop, TSA checkpoint or boarding gate, they will just need to lower their face mask to utilize the new technology. Their face will be recognized within seconds, and there will be no need to pull out a boarding pass or record locator.

Delta has previously used similar facial recognition technology for passengers to board some international flights.

And it’s not just Delta.

American Airlines started testing its own biometric screening for boarding in March, and that system is still being tested in Dallas.

“A lot of people may be wondering: ‘Wait a minute, what’s going to happen to my photo?’” Benitez asked. “‘Is Delta going to keep my information?’”

“It’s a very valid concern,” Goswami said. “First, we are not storing any photographic imagery at all. All we do is take your photo. And because you’ve uploaded your passport number as part of your Delta profile… we take that passport number and that picture. We just check it against the customs database from your passport photo.”

With Delta expecting more than 5.5 million travelers over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the pilot program will come at the perfect time.

“It’s actually a good congruence of circumstances that we have this technology ready,” said Byron Merritt, Delta’s vice president of experience design. “We’re going to be able to bring it to life before the holidays and hopefully make a better experience for our customers as they come back.”

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