Using Biometrics, Delta Will Check Your Face Before Checking Your Bag


Delta airport queue

One way for airlines to reduce the friction that has been cropping up lately between employees and passengers may be to reduce the contact between the two groups of humans—and help customers avoid waiting in lines like the one above.

Delta is testing facial recognition technology at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport this summer that allows customers to check their own bags using a self-service bag-drop machine equipped with software that matches customers’ faces with their passport photos through identification verification, which Delta called a “first for US carriers.”

Delta biometrics baggage check machines

The test—at an investment totaling $600,000, which also includes three other self-service bag-drop machines—complements Delta’s RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology to track luggage as well as self-service innovations such as ticketing kiosks.

Will airline passengers who aren’t happy about paying checked baggage fees, and who may be wary of new wrinkles in a luggage-tracking chain that is still capable of making huge mistakes, take to this new idea?

Delta logo“We expect this investment and new process to save customers time,” Gareth Joyce, Delta’s senior vice president of airport customer service and cargo, stated in a press release. “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.”

Several U.S. airlines already use self-service bag drops, but this is the first time a U.S. airline has implemented biometrics for the process. “This is the next step in curating an airport experience that integrates thoughtful innovation from start to finish,” Joyce added. “We’re making travel easier than ever for our customers and continuing to deliver a leading customer experience.”

The airline will collect customer feedback during the trial and run process analyses to ensure that this lobby enhancement improves the overall customer experience. Studies have found that self-service bag drops have the potential to process twice as many customers per hour.

The test follows Delta’s announcement of a 5 percent stake in Clear, a startup that recently attracted $15 million in private equity funding. Clear charges airline passengers $179 a year (now free for Delta premium flyers and discounted for other Delta customers) to scan their irises or fingerprints and whisk them through preliminary TSA identification checks and to the head of the line for TSA screening.

As The Verge notes, Delta is an early adopter of biometrics among airline brands, “seeing it as an opportunity to improve customers’ airport experiences.” According to Delta Customer Initiatives chief Christian Revilla, who recently spoke at ConnectID, airport biometrics are one of the four chief priorities set by the company’s CEO for the coming year.

Still, as The Verge adds, facial recognition has its drawbacks as lighting and even accessories can create issues: “Accuracy has already emerged as one of the biggest challenges… Facial recognition is far less accurate than more involved biometrics like fingerprinting or iris scans.”