By the end of this year, some international passengers flying from Atlanta will be able to leave their passports in their bags as they travel through the airport.
Delta Air Lines is working with the Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration to let passengers at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s Terminal F check in, drop bags, pass through TSA checkpoints, and board their flights—all using facial recognition systems powered by in-terminal cameras to verify their identity. Delta says it will be the first all-biometric terminal in the U.S., though passengers will still be able to check in the old-fashioned way if they prefer.
“Launching the first biometric terminal in the U.S. at the world’s busiest airport means we’re bringing the future of flying to customers traveling around the globe,” said Delta COO Gil West in a statement. “Customers have an expectation that experiences along their journey are easy and happen seamlessly–that’s what we’re aiming for by launching this technology across airport touch points.”
The airline estimates passengers could save nine minutes per flight with the new technology and says not handling mundane ID checks and similar operations could help its employees provide better service. The new system will also be available to passengers on Aeromexico, Air France-KLM, and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Both U.S. and foreign nationals will be able to upload their passport information when they check in online or at the terminal, then look at facial recognition cameras at each point in the airport to verify who they are.
Delta and CBP began testing biometric boarding at the Atlanta airport in 2016 and later expanded biometric tests to other airports, including Detroit Metropolitan and John F. Kennedy International. The airline also offers optional fingerprint check-in for its Delta Sky Club lounges.
Biometric airport processes are often touted as offering speedier boarding and tightened security.
“The expansion of biometrics and facial recognition throughout the airport environment represents the next generation of security identification technology,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in a statement about the Atlanta program.
Civil liberties groups and other skeptics have generally called for regulation on what happens to the images once people pass through the airport. There’s also a risk, they’ve warned, that once these programs become more commonplace, travelers who opt out may face delays or inconvenience.
But for now, according to Delta, passengers who’d prefer not to smile for the facial recognition cameras can simply show their passports as they’ve always done.