Delta at Detroit Metro to use facial recognition for flyers

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Delta Air Lines reveals their new biometric scanning technology at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Ga. on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018.

Romulus — Starting next year, international flyers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport will be able to skip the line and check in using facial recognition technology. 

Delta Air Lines, in partnership with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Administration, unveiled the first biometric terminal in Atlanta and its next stop is Detroit. 

The airline first began testing the technology with Wayne County Airport Authority in July and plans to have it available at all of McNamara's 14 international gates by mid-December, officials said. 

Starting this December, customers can use facial recognition technology from curb to gate.

“It is a great honor for Detroit Metropolitan Airport to become one of the nation’s first biometric terminals,” said Chad Newton, Wayne County Airport Authority's interim CEO. “As a world-class airport, we are continuously seeking ways to enhance the customer travel experience. We look forward to partnering with Delta, CBP and TSA to provide passengers with the option to utilize facial recognition throughout their entire travel process.”

Customers flying direct on an international flight on Delta, Aeromexico, Air France, KLM or Virgin Atlantic Airways can start using the technology to: 

  • Check themselves in at kiosks in the lobby.
  • Drop checked baggage at counters.
  • Serve as identification at the TSA checkpoint.
  • Board a flight.
  • And go through CBP processing for international travelers arriving into the United States.

“Delta’s successful launch of the first biometric terminal in the U.S. at the world’s busiest airport means we are designing the airport biometric experience blueprint for the industry,” Delta's Chief Operating Officer Gil West said in a statement.

“We’re removing the need for a customer checking a bag to present their passport up to four times per departure – which means we’re giving customers the option of moving through the airport with one less thing to worry about, while empowering our employees with more time for meaningful interactions with customers.”

Since mid-October, less than 2 percent of the 25,000 customers traveling through the Atlanta airport each week have opted out of the voluntary program. Delta says the option saves an average of two seconds for each customer at boarding and nine minutes when boarding a wide-body aircraft.

Some critics have expressed concerns over privacy and security of the service. In an email, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson previously told The Detroit News that the agency has used facial-recognition for entry and exit in more than three million cases and has been able to match 99 percent of individuals with a photo on file with the U.S. government. The agency says it has caught at least three impostors with the technology so far.

The spokesperson said the agency is working to reduce the retention period of U.S. citizens' photos to no more than 12 hours after identity verification in case of an extended system outage.

The agency temporarily retains photos of all other travelers for up to 14 days "to support system audits, to evaluate the Traveler Verification Service facial recognition technology, and to ensure accuracy of the facial recognition process." The spokesperson said the agency deletes all photos from its cloud-matching service by the end of the flight.

“These are small steps, but I can see a world where we hopefully get to a point where security is part of the rhythm or flow of the airport, where you won't need to produce a paper," Delta CEO Eric Bastian told The News in September. "It's all technology-enabled, that seamless access to the airport so people can take time to enjoy the amenities in the airport as opposed to waiting in lines for boarding or to get through security.”
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Detroit News Staff Writer Breanna Noble contributed