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Facial Recognition Becoming Common at Airports Skip to content

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Airlines Using Facial Recognition to Speed Airport Check-In

Biometric identification will eventually take the place of other forms of ID

man in front of a facial ID screen at Dulles Airport

Washington Post

Washington Dulles International Airport officials recently unveiled new facial-recognition scanners.

En español | Someday all you’ll need to identify yourself at an airport is your shining face — and that day is not in some distant, sci-fi future. Test runs of facial-recognition technology (also known as biometrics) are popping up at airports around the country.

This month Delta rolled out a facial-recognition option from curb to gate for international travelers leaving from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s Terminal F. The airline is billing it as the nation’s first “biometric terminal,” because the technology is available at points throughout the terminal — from the self-service kiosk or the check-in counter to baggage claim, the TSA checkpoint and finally at the gate. Other airlines have begun limited use of biometrics.

How it works:

At the check-in desk or self-service kiosk, you can choose the biometric option and have your photo taken. The photo will then be matched with others in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) database, such as those for passports or visas. If there are no red flags, a green check mark will flash on the screen and you will be able to go directly to the TSA security checkpoint (where your face will be scanned again), then to the gate (scanned again) and finally to your seat on the airplane.

That’s all without having to fish in your pocket for an ID. You'll still need to have your passport with you so you can display it, for example, when you arrive at your overseas destination.

“We’re giving customers the option of moving through the airport with one less thing to worry about,” says Gil West, Delta’s chief operating officer.


Delta has also tested biometric boarding for international travelers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airport, where it plans to offer the complete curb-to-gate experience at 14 gates sometime next year. When it comes to domestic travel, Delta has tested biometrics for boarding at Reagan Washington National Airport, and for checking bags at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. The airline also is offering Delta Sky Club members the option to use biometrics to get into any domestic Club.

The CBP is partnering with other airlines and airports to test and implement the technology, which so far is being used to screen passengers on about 47 international flights a day at 17 airports around the country, including in Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago. So far Atlanta is the only airport where biometrics is used as ID at every step, from check-in to boarding. Others have it only at check-in and/or at the gate.

“At some point our goal is to be at all international departure gates at major airports,” says Dan Tanciar, deputy executive director for planning, program analysis and evaluation at the CBP’s Office of Field Operations. “We’re definitely ramping up here.” Tanciar says biometric systems have already helped unmask three imposters at Washington Dulles International Airport using false identities.

The technology has other advantages besides its imposter-detection power. Tanciar notes that it’s also “quite handy and really quick” for passengers. Reducing the effort and time it takes to get from check-in to airplane is a big priority for travelers: 65 percent of passengers have said they’re willing to share personal data for expedited security, according to the International Air Transport Association’s 2018 Global Passenger Survey. And that finding may underestimate travelers’ desire to get from curb to airplane faster. Delta reports that only two percent of the nearly 25,000 passengers traveling through Terminal F each week are opting out of the biometric screening.

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