In trial program, Delta travelers can use just their face to board a plane

Delta Air Lines is now using facial recognition technology to help travelers speed through airport security lines.

"They will ask you to lower your mask in front of a camera which will then recognize your face," said Zach Griff, a senior reporter with the online travel guide The Points Guy. "You can opt-in to a new biometric hands-free, device-free travel experience."

Delta launched the pilot program in Detroit in January and just expanded it to Atlanta in partnership with the TSA. Passengers will no longer need an ID or a boarding pass.

In order to participate, a passenger has to be with Delta's loyalty program (which is called Delta SkyMiles), have a U.S. passport, and be enrolled in the TSA PreCheck security program.

Passengers stand in front of a small monitor and camera, which matches their face to the image from their U.S. passport in the U.S. Customs database.

"It runs through the entire database of all the pictures and it matches your face to the one from your American passport, which then clears you through security and onto the plane," Griff said.

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A biometric scanner at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Michigan. (Courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Delta has already been using facial recognition for three years with its international flights in Atlanta. Now, it is expanding to domestic flights.  

So, what if you're wearing glasses and you normally don't wear glasses or you're wearing a hoodie or you've lost weight? What happens then?

"If it's a dramatic change, ideally you should definitely still have your boarding pass and your ID because the system probably won't recognize you."

As for any security risks?

"Given the fact that they're accessing a federal database, I would generally say at this point, no," said Ian Marlow, the CEO of FitechGelb, a cybersecurity company.

The pilot program runs through June 2022. Delta is hoping the TSA will make it permanent and expand facial recognition to other major airports. 

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How to Participate

  • Store your passport information and TSA PreCheck Known Traveler Number securely in your SkyMiles profile in the Fly Delta app
  • Opt into the program at check-in using the Fly Delta app
  • At the airport, you can look into the camera at bag drop, the security checkpoint and the boarding gate to use your digital identity in place of a physical ID and boarding pass

SOURCE: Delta Air Lines