Delta Tests Facial Recognition Technology in Detroit, the First of Its Kind for Domestic Flights

Delta facial recognition

Delta Air Lines is expanding its use of facial recognition technology with a first-of-its-kind pilot program for domestic flights, the airline announced Thursday. 

Starting next month, Delta will test the digital ID technology for domestic flights at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, working with the Transportation Security Administration to allow for a contact-free experience at security checkpoints, according to the announcement. When eligible customers pass through security, they will simply have to look into a camera rather than produce a physical ID and boarding pass.

Initially, only passengers with TSA PreCheck will be allowed to move through security without showing an ID card.

To participate in the pilot program, Delta customers will need to have a passport number and TSA PreCheck membership, which can be stored in their SkyMiles profile in the Fly Delta app. Passengers can then opt-in to the program in the app.

In early 2021, Delta said the program will expand to bag drop and be used in place of a boarding pass at the gate, creating a faster — and virtually touchless — journey through the terminal.

“When it comes to pulling forward the future of Delta’s customer experience, we think big, start small and scale fast, letting innovation lead the way as we continuously listen to customer feedback,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened the importance of providing a touchless experience for our customers.”

Delta has ventured into the land of facial recognition technology before, creating America’s first biometric terminal in the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal in Atlanta in 2018.

The TSA started piloting its own tests of the technology earlier this year, using a self-service system to verify a traveler’s ID at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. For that program, travelers insert their ID’s into a scanner rather than handing it to a TSA officer.

Fellow U.S. carrier JetBlue has also tested facial recognition software for international flights along with several foreign airlines, including Norwegian.

But the technology has not been without its controversy: when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced its plans to screen U.S. citizens using facial recognition technology last year, it was met with swift backlash.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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