Delta to roll out facial recognition in Atlanta domestic terminal

Credit: Phil Skinner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Phil Skinner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The way some frequent fliers pass through Atlanta is about to change, as Delta Air Lines rolls out a facial recognition pilot program in the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International as early as next week.

It’s another expansion of biometrics, after Atlanta-based Delta rolled out facial recognition for international travelers at the airport in 2018.

The goal is to make the travel experience more convenient and “hands-free and touch-free,” said Greg Forbes, Delta’s managing director of airport experience. The shift to biometrics started years ago. “What COVID did was accelerate it,” he added.

However, some have raised privacy issues and other concerns as the use of facial recognition technology grows.

Delta plans to launch the pilot program as early as Nov. 3, pending Transportation Security Administration approvals, and continue it until June 2022.

The airline plans to add facial recognition as an option for domestic travelers out of Atlanta who meet certain criteria: they have a passport, are members of the TSA’s PreCheck trusted traveler program, are Delta SkyMiles members with their passport information and Known Traveler Number in their profile, and check in via Delta’s app.

Combined, Delta says about a quarter of its Atlanta customers would meet those conditions, and they’re likely to be frequent fliers. If they are checking in for a domestic flight, they will be asked on the Delta app if they want to opt in to the facial recognition pilot program that’s a partnership with the TSA.

When such passengers arrive at the Atlanta airport, they can go to a new “PreCheck Express bag drop” room with facial recognition camera stations to print out bag tags and drop luggage on a conveyor belt on the lower level of Terminal South.

Credit: Phil Skinner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Phil Skinner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

At the Terminal South PreCheck security checkpoint near Delta’s check-in area, TSA has one facial recognition camera where pilot program participants can have their identify verified without having to pull out their ID or boarding pass.

Delta says many who would qualify for its pilot program are also Clear members, who use an iris scan or fingerprints to verify their identity rather than pulling out a driver’s license.

Delta also has the cameras at its gates on Concourse T, where those who are part of the pilot program can notify the gate agent during boarding to use facial recognition instead of scanning a boarding pass.

Credit: Phil Skinner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Phil Skinner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Association for Computing Machinery’s Technology Policy Council last year raised concerns about facial recognition, saying “its use has often compromised fundamental human and legal rights of individuals to privacy, employment, justice and personal liberty.”

However, the council’s chair, James Hendler, said in a written statement that Delta’s use of facial recognition “makes it clear where and how it is being used,” offers the ability to opt out and has human backup when the system is inaccurate, enhancing the ethical use of the technology.

Delta’s expansion of facial recognition has been a gradual process, with different pilots and tests over the years and a vision to use biometrics for a “curb-to-gate” experience.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, facial recognition is currently used at international gates, where passengers must opt out if they don’t want their faces scanned.

At the Detroit airport, Delta earlier this year launched facial recognition for domestic travelers at the security checkpoint, and plans to add facial recognition to ticket counters there also.