Delta to test facial-recognition tech on new self-service bag drop

Delta Air Lines will begin testing facial recognition technology this summer at a self-service bag-drop station at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

The effort, announced by the carrier Monday, is part of a broader trial of self-service bag drop machines at its MSP hub. Delta is installing four of the machines, including the one that will test facial recognition technology "equipped to ... match customers with their passport photos through identification verification.”

Delta says the $600,000 initiative at MSP will make it the first airline to try a biometric-based self-service bag drop in the United States.

“We expect this investment and new process to save customers time,” Gareth Joyce, Delta’s SVP - Airport Customer Service and Cargo, says in a statement. “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.”

Delta’s bag drops are aimed to those checking in via Delta’s self-service check-in kiosks. Customers will affix a bag tag to their luggage that is printed out from the kiosk and then take the tagged luggage to the bag-drop station.

At the three stations without the biometric capability, an agent will verify a customer’s identity.

The fourth bag-drop machine, the one that will test the facial-recognition technology, will attempt to verify the customer’s identity without the assistance of an agent. To use it, customers scan their passport at the machine, which will then use facial-recognition technology to try to confirm the identity of the person checking the bag matches the information from the passport.

So far, the technology is only enabled for fliers with passports. Customers using other forms of ID will have to use one of the three other self-service bag drops.

At all four bag drops, fliers leave their bags on the automated luggage belt once their identities are confirmed. The belt then takes the luggage off for security checks and to be loaded into the plane.

Delta says it will evaluate customer feedback from the bag-drop trial, which comes amid a broader lobby renovation at the MSP airport, “to ensure that this lobby enhancement improves the overall customer experience.”

Delta touted the bag drops as a way to speed up passenger queues. “Studies have found that self-service bag drops have the potential to process twice as many customers per hour,” the airline said in announcing the installation of the machines at MSP.

Delta described the self-service bag drops and facial-recognition technology being introduced at MSP as “a natural next step in its work to streamline airport processes.” It comes after the carrier last year rolled out radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that allows the carrier to track bags in real-time via chips included in fliers’ bag tags.

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Delta also touted other recent efforts, such as an effort to add modernized security lanes at its Atlanta hub. The updated security queues, “gifted” to the Transportation Security Administration at Delta’s expense, were meant to reduce wait times by keeping empty bins circulating via an automated process.

They were introduced last summer as security wait times spiked at a number of major U.S. airports amid staffing constraints at the TSA. Similar lanes have since been added at other U.S. airports.

“This is the next step in curating an airport experience that integrates thoughtful innovation from start to finish,” Delta’s Joyce said about the new bag drops and facial-recognition features being tested at MSP. “We’re making travel easier than ever for our customers and continuing to deliver a leading customer experience.”

TWITTER: You can follow Today in the Sky editor Ben Mutzabaugh at twitter.com/TodayInTheSky

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