Delta Air Lines plans to use facial recognition to speed up bag drops

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In an effort to speed up bag drops for priority customers, Delta Air Lines will be testing facial recognition technology at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport starting this summer. Customers will be required to scan their passports at specially equipped kiosks, where a camera will scan their face to confirm their identity.

Four new self-service bag drop kiosks are being installed in Minneapolis, but only one will include the facial recognition software. Delta will be collecting customer feedback during the process to gauge how it will expand the service to other airports in the future, a spokesperson said. Delta is spending $600,000 on the new machines.

The announcement comes as the US government has been reshaping its security processes around the use of more facial recognition. Customs and Border Protection is registering visitors leaving the US using facial recognition, and it’s mulling over making facial scans necessary for US citizens as well.

CBP began testing facial recognition systems at Dulles Airport in 2015, then expanded the tests to New York’s JFK Airport last year. Face-reading check-in kiosks will be appearing at Ottawa International Airport this spring, and British Airways is rolling out a similar system at London’s Heathrow Airport, comparing faces captured at security screenings with a separate capture at the boarding gate.

But while those face-scanning initiatives are being used for security purposes, airlines like Delta also see a customer service opportunity as well. And as more people become more comfortable (or at least tolerant) with the idea that privacy doesn’t carry much weight at US airports, the use of these types of scanning processes is likely to grow more frequent.

Delta insists that privacy will be protected and that its self-service bag drops won’t collect anyone’s information or retain any images of their faces. Still, privacy experts warn that government agencies (and now private airlines) run risks when using this technology, especially if it’s found that they are cross-checking facial images with law enforcement databases without permission.

Delta says its only interest is speeding up the check-in process for customers, while also freeing up gate agents to deal with more important situations. “We expect this investment and new process to save customers time,” said Gareth Joyce, Delta’s senior VP for airport customer service and cargo, in a statement. “And, since customers can operate the biometric-based bag drop machine independently, we see a future where Delta agents will be freed up to seek out travelers and deliver more proactive and thoughtful customer service.”

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