The Wall Street Journal

How Facial Recognition Will Get You to Your Gate Faster


Airlines and TSA are starting to scan faces to get people through security and the boarding gate faster. Delta's COO, Gill West gave WSJ's Scott McCartney a look at the airline's facial recognition technology at work.

Photo: Ben Martin for The Wall Street Journal

#WSJ #Travel

This week we begin by looking at South Korea's strategy against Covid-19. It has been widely praised as effective against the virus but is it corrosive to personal freedoms? Next we see how monks are racing to save a Buddhist temple from rising waters in Thailand. The result of failed economic planning at the cost of the local environment. Finally, we head to India where the pandemic has exacerbated the problem of aggressive monkeys in New Delhi. We will look at how innovative solutions such as facial recognition are being used to deal with the problem.
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… show captions ↓
(soft music)
- Facial recognition is becoming ubiquitous,
from unlocking our phones to social media,
and now, even airports.
I'm in Atlanta to check out
new facial recognition technology.
It's supposed to allow you to use your face
to get through the entire airport process.
We're gonna see how it works.
In December, Delta introduced the first biometric terminal
in the U.S. at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson
International Airport, promising to improve
the boarding experience for Delta passengers.
Why are you doing this?
What's the advantage for the airline?
- Well ultimately, it's for our customers
and improving the experience for them,
and really, reducing stress and travel friction,
save them time and make the experience better.
- Can you look at this as I will use my face
for identification instead of pulling out
my driver's license or passport?
- That's exactly it.
You know, your face becomes your identification.
- I wanted to test this technology out for myself,
so I am going to check in for a flight
to Narita Airport in Tokyo.
And I look at the camera,
and there it is.
I've checked in for my flight and I've got my boarding pass.
While Delta says this is a time saver,
others are concerned about the accuracy
of facial recognition like this
and the privacy of passengers who walked in.
What about accuracy?
We hear a lot about facial recognition algorithms
have a difficult time with people with dark skin
or women or short people.
How has it actually worked?
- Yeah, of course the CBP could give you the actual numbers,
but from what we've seen,
the match rates are in the very high 90% ranges.
The technology works, it's safe, it's secure.
The experience is good on top of that.
- The process from curb through security
was seamless enough.
The last stop is the gate.
I was curious to hear about the experience
of my fellow travelers.
Are you comfortable with what they're doing here today?
- Not really.
I just think it raises a lot of privacy concerns.
- [Scott] So you will opt out?
- I will opt out, yeah. - Yeah?
Is that an inconvenience?
Are you gonna be in the slow line, or you--
- I would prefer being inconvenienced
and being in the slow line rather than risking my privacy.
- You just came through for boarding
for the flight to Tokyo.
You used the facial recognition.
What did you think?
- It's great.
So easy.
Being paperless and digital is so nice, so convenient.
- What about privacy concerns?
- The convenience that it provides,
to me, outweighs the risk from a convenience standpoint.
- [Airline Worker] About to board flight 877.
- It's a secure process.
It's optional.
There's no data that we keep as an airline.
- And there's no additional information you get out of this?
- We do not save any additional information as part of this.
- And so far, customer acceptance has been okay?
- 72% of our customers prefer to use facial
over the current process,
and there's only a 2% opt-out rate.
- CBP says they save the photos only about 24 hours
in case there's an issue with the flight.
In terms of privacy, they already have your photo.
You give it to them when you apply for a passport,
so there's nothing gathered that they don't already have.
After trying Delta's new facial recognition technology,
it did seem to speed up the process
and make my boarding experience more efficient,
but occasionally, some people
may have to show their passports.
Airports are using this as a replacement for your passport,
your driver's license, but the privacy concerns are real
and there's still a lot of public policy
that needs to be worked out with this.
The potential of this technology
to make traveling easier is great.
And while the technology is here now,
the roll-out, it seems, might take a little longer,
and so will convincing all the traveling public
that their information will remain private.

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