The Margin: Delta Air Lines’ facial recognition tech is expanding to Atlanta — here’s how it works


Holiday travel typically means long lines, crowded airports and stressed-out travelers. But maybe not this year for some fliers: Delta Air Lines

is rolling out technology that could speed up the airport process and make getting from bag drop to the boarding gate a little easier.

Delta is expanding its “digital ID” for domestic travel to Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

The digital ID takes the place of both a physical boarding pass and a physical government ID, allowing for a smoother airport experience.

The ID includes a traveler’s passport number and TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Known Traveler Number, and is verified by facial recognition technology throughout various airport checkpoints.

The expansion of the program moves the company closer to achieving its “vision of creating a more personalized and fully connected travel journey,” Byron Merritt, Delta’s Vice President of Brand Experience Design, said in a statement.

“Our goal in turning pivotal moments like security and check-in into seamless experiences is to give time and focus back to the moments customers enjoy. Innovations like digital identity are implemented with the intention to transform the cohesive travel experience into a journey that our customers can truly look forward to,” Merritt said.

Delta’s digital ID program, which is an exclusive partnership with TSA PreCheck, first debuted in Detroit earlier this year, and so far has approximately 15,000 member sign-ups each week, Forbes reports. Delta said that market testing showed 72% of passengers preferred boarding with a digital ID as opposed to traditional methods.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened the importance of providing a touchless experience for our customers,” Bill Lentsch, Chief Customer Experience Officer for Delta, said when the program launched in Detroit.

The company plans to expand the program to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, LAX, Minneapolis and other hubs. Delta first launched a biometric terminal in 2018 for international travel.

How it works

The digital ID program is voluntary, and travelers who decide not to use it will proceed through the airport as usual.

Customers who opt-in to the feature must have the Fly Delta app, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Known Traveler Number, and a passport. Travelers will store all this data in their SkyMiles profile on the app.

Travelers will then opt-in to the program at check-in. At bag drop, the security checkpoint and the boarding gate, those with a digital ID will simply look into a camera instead of showing a boarding pass and physical ID to proceed.

Once a customer looks into the camera, that image is encrypted and sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facial biometric matching service. The image is transmitted through a secure channel without any accompanying biographic data, Delta said.

Once verified by Customs and Border Protection using passport information on file, the customer can proceed.

Delta said it does not store any biometric data, and does not plan to in the future.

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