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Delta Air Lines Launches First Domestic Digital ID Test

Delta’s check-in area in Terminal 4 of JFK Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

As the COVID-19 pandemic changes the way people travel by air, possibly forever, growing attention is being paid to systems and procedures aimed at eliminating opportunities for close personal contact and the exchange of objects and papers that can lead to disease transmission.

In addition to the development of electronic health passports that airlines and technology providers are trying to deploy as quickly as possible to facilitate the recovery of international connectivity, another aspect that has seen increased attention is the implementation of a touchless experience from curb to gate so that passengers can navigate through airports without the need for touching surfaces at every step of the process.

Delta Air Lines has announced the launch of the first domestic digital identity tests in the U.S., which will be made available to all Delta passengers at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport who are willing to use their passport number and their TSA PreCheck or Global Entry number as a digital ID.

Beginning February, it will be possible for passengers to move through dedicated TSA PreCheck checkpoints using facial recognition technology, and the capability will be expanded to bag drop and boarding in early 2021, making the complete touchless experience a reality.

“When it comes to pulling forward the future of Delta’s customer experience, we think big, start small and scale fast, letting innovation lead the way as we continuously listen to customer feedback,” said Bill Lentsch, Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, in a note on the company’s website. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened the importance of providing a touchless experience for our customers. We plan to expand curb-to-gate facial recognition and digital ID beyond the Detroit test so that all of our customers can enjoy a seamless, touchless travel experience across our network.”

Participation in the test will be entirely voluntary, as passengers not comfortable with this new process will still be able to complete the various steps from curb to aircraft in a traditional manner simply by opting out during the check-in process.

Passengers taking part in the test trials will be able to navigate through the airport simply by looking at the cameras deployed at checkpoints, the same way as is done at automatic passport control gates that have become commonplace in many airports around the world for passengers using electronic passports. Cameras will capture the passenger’s image, encrypt it and send it through a secure channel to U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) after being stripped of biographic information.

This will be the eighth market that will make broad use of facial recognition technology. Delta launched the first biometric terminal in December 2018. The technology has been tested in cooperation with U.S. CBP for the past three years in Atlanta, Detroit and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

The initiative is part of the development of a touchless experience promised by Delta at the CES 2020, the Consumer Electronics Show that every January in Las Vegas presents to the world the newest cutting-edge technology solutions dedicated to consumers. As the Fly Delta app is being transformed into a concierge service for customers to enhance the travel-day experience, the end-to-end touchless experience the Atlanta-based carrier is striving to deliver is being integrated into the very tool that already allows automated check-in, real-time RFID tracking and seamless integration with biometric terminals at selected airports.

Vanni Gibertini


  • Vanni Gibertini

    Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.

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