Delta has launched the first end-to-end biometric terminal in the US, promising to speed up the passenger experience at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport.
Facial recognition technology can be used to confirm passenger identity at check-in, bag drop, security and boarding, removing the need to show a passport and boarding pass at each step.
After a partial roll-out in October, the facial-scanning cameras will now be used for all international flights from Terminal F on Delta and its joint venture partners Aeromexico, Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic.
John Wagner, deputy commissioner at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has been developing the technology with Delta and other partners, said the move could cut waiting time by around 40 per cent.
Explaining how the facial scanning works, Wagner told journalists at Atlanta airport on Thursday: “We already had a secure CBP database of photographs from passports, visas and arrivals.
“When the airline transmits the list of who is on the flight to us, we can pull up those photographs. We then templatise the photograph, which means taking your picture and turning it into a mathematical formula. We put that into a secure part of the cloud with a unique identifier.
“When your photo is taken [at the biometric gates], it’s transmitted through the internet to us. That comes into our cloud space, is templatised, matched, and then a message goes back that says ‘passenger 12345 matched’.”
Wagner said the technology looks for a 90 per cent facial match, and is operating at around a 98 per cent success rate.
If a passenger’s face does not match the image in the CBP’s database, airport staff will check their passport manually.
Wagner said the biggest obstacle was collecting biometrics from departing travellers when US airports don’t have departure controls like in other countries. Passengers who aren’t on the CBP’s database need to submit their passport information online or at the airport before they can use the new system.
When asked about possible security concerns, Wagner said: “A templatised version of a photograph is the only data being transmitted back and forth. Personal data like your name, date of birth or passport number are not stored.
“The systems are secure, but if they were to be compromised, there’s really nothing people could get beyond what they could get by standing at the gate and taking a picture.
“The four times you would normally show your passport, you would show all that personal information. This way, you’re just showing your face to a camera and not disclosing your details to anyone at the airport.”
People are free to opt-out of the system, which Delta said around 2 per cent out of 25,000 weekly passengers were currently doing.