Say ‘goodbye’ to the airline check-in agent

Fairly soon, many of you won’t need to talk to a human employee anymore when you check in at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Delta is testing out a new system that uses biometrics to identify you when dropping your baggage at the check-in, the airline announced in a press release.

Available to people with passports, the system will scan your face to be sure you’re who you are — pretty much the same thing the human employee does when looking at your driver’s license.

The Verge says the new system will be tested at MSP, freeing up the human employees to do other things, or — as Delta says — provide “more proactive and thoughtful customer service.”

Delta insists that privacy will be protected and that its self-service bag drops won’t collect anyone’s information or retain any images of their faces. Still, privacy experts warn that government agencies (and now private airlines) run risks when using this technology, especially if it’s found that they are cross-checking facial images with law enforcement databases without permission.

Delta says its only interest is speeding up the check-in process for customers, while also freeing up gate agents to deal with more important situations. “We expect this investment and new process to save customers time,” said Gareth Joyce, Delta’s senior VP for airport customer service and cargo, 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 is spending $600,000 on the facial recognition machines which it says could double the number of passengers processed at check-in.

  • MrE85


  • BJ

    >Delta agents will be freed up to seek out travelers and deliver more proactive and thoughtful customer service.

    Or be unemployed former agents.

    • Bob Sinclair

      I was thinking that they would help prevent fights on flights. (or start them as the case may be…)

  • Gary F

    Who checks baggage? I thought the norm today was to try to jam your suitcase in the overhead, and when it doesn’t fit, keep trying while the line backs up.

    I presume this facial recognition data will be shared with the TSA and Homeland Security.

    • Since it’s connected to your passport, I’d guess they already have it.

      • Gary F

        With all that money they are saving, do I get the whole can of pop?

        • wjc

          No. They are going to charge you for that drink, because people want control over what they are paying for. That was their rationale for charging for checking bags.

          • lusophone

            It’s always “for your convenience.”

  • Ralphy

    Perhaps Delta could offer bar-code tattoos to their frequent flyers to help speed check in.

    • You know who else liked to keep track of people by using tattoos?

      • Ralphy

        Thanks for catching my insinuation.

        • It’s a meme that’s been around for quite some time. I’m just pleased that I got to trot it out.


  • Postal Customer

    Checking in with a bag is an extremely slow process. It’s especially aggrivating since you know Security Theatre™ is coming next.

    I do hope those workers are reassigned, and they aren’t laid off, but I won’t mourn at least the speeding of the whole process.

    • Dan

      They could help the people who will inevitably need it while trying to use these machines. And they could watch for people trying to circumvent the facial recognition tests, which when implemented in other applications, has been show to be trivial. But like you, I’m hoping it means the whole process moves faster.

    • Kassie

      We just flew from Denver to MSP and I checked a bag. After the shuttle dropped us off, I walked up to the curbside Southwest desk, no line, handed them my ID and they printed our passes and checked my bag in under 2 minutes. It doesn’t have to be slow.

      • It helps to fly and airline with comparatively few flights out of an airport. I always worry more people will find out about the Humphrey Terminal.

        • Jack

          Ironically Sun Country was getting rid of the self-service baggage kiosks because the travelers wouldn’t use them. Found that out when the one I was using malfunctioned and the attendant had to redo everything that I had done.

          So many reasons that Humphrey is better. Don’t worry Bob, no one will find it because only those who “know” still call it Humphrey instead of the numeric name.

  • Zachary

    How well will this work if your current face is different from your passport face? i.e. gained/lost weight, facial hair, hair style, etc? Is the system good enough to tell that?

    I don’t trust this enough to trust my luggage to it, so I will still seek out a real person. I’m assuming they would keep a couple around to fix the machines when they break. Which, if you go by the self-check in kiosks, is quite often.

    • fromthesidelines21

      I’ve flown a couple times internationally and had the facial recognition scan. I didn’t have a beard when the passport photo was taken. I have one now and no issues. I like this idea.

      Unfortunately for some parts of the workforce technology will be a better solution. Just like I’d rather have a touch screen to order my McDonald’s. That’s mostly because the kids shouting in the car while I’m trying to keep the order straight. Oh and Self Checkout at Walmart is absolutely necessary!

      • Zachary

        that was for the APC though, right? I’ve used them as well, and it seems those are more to keep the customs forms attached to the correct passport than to match up faces. I like those, as you still have to go thru the guy in the little booth, who stamps it.

        I’m old school – I like human to human interaction. Self checkouts are nice when you only have a couple of things, but woe to those who try to use it for a whole cartload!

        • fromthesidelines21

          It should be pretty much the same system. (I’m not a programmer) Just add a couple questions for how many bags. weigh them and if needed charge a fee. My guess is the human agents are still using some pretty old operating systems that make the process more complicated than it has to be. I’m sure just like Walmart they will have one (or more) staff on hand but will be able to cover 5 – 10 stations.

          Or maybe Delta’s test won’t work well at all and they will continue with the current process which also isn’t very good.

          • Zachary

            I think it’s DOS based… 🙂

  • Mike Worcester

    And if someone does not wish to have their face scanned for purposes of flying Delta Airlines? What then? How many humans equals $600K and can they quantify the frustration of travelers which may ensue when machines start to not work properly (hey, it happens…..)

    • John

      If the machines last for at least 8 years, I’d say each machine can replace one employee and they’ll come out even.

      My guess is it’s more like each machine replaces 2-3 employees, and this will be a profitable investment in about two years.

      • kennedy

        I can’t see an automated check in being faster than a live agent.

        For travelers that don’t use the machines regularly I would expect this to actually slow down check in. I’ve been stuck behind people at an ATM having difficulties. Pretty good odds some people would not be able to use an automated system to check their bags.

        • John

          slower, yes. Cheaper is probably the thing they’re going for. I haven’t noticed that anyone who works at the airport much cares about speed of service.

          The reason I say 2-3 employees is that the check-ins are running at least 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. So even if these things only replace one person at the counter, it replaces 3 people hired, because it doesn’t need breaks and can work 24 hours a day (in theory).

          • kennedy

            Agreed. These things pay off when they take the place of a live agent. The payback proposition is best for the first one and gets worse as the number of machines increases. Putting a few in place would give the best payback. Putting in a boat load of them would mean lots of idle machines during slower times. But I’m sure the pencil pushers have figured out the best number to reduce cost.

  • John O.

    They will need three times the staffing levels to deal with inexperienced and/or frustrated travelers, or those glorious moments where the whole system comes to full stop because the computer crashed.

    • Steve

      Like Delta has ever had any IT outage

  • Karl Crabkiller

    Most of my flights are international. For the past few years I have used the APC (Automated Passport Control ) kiosks – where you scan your passport and answer a few questions at a machine. I my experiences this technology has cut the time to get through customs and immigration greatly. Never had a problem with the machines.

    • Barton

      I would agree with this statement from my experience as well with the APC. But it is one thing when only a small percentage of us use the machines (growing at MSP though, where I have seen problems with the humans not understanding what they are doing), versus when everyone starts using them….

    • I’ve used those before and, in general, they work OK. On occasion I have run into APCs that seem to be malfunctioning…which makes for a fun time.

  • Barton

    This seems like something they should be testing in a state that already has the enhanced driver’s licenses, not in a state that can’t be bothered to do something about it….

    • Available to people with passports, the system will scan your face to be sure you’re who you are

      Right. in. the. story.

      • Zachary

        If I hold a picture of Sean Spicer up to the facial recog camera, all my luggage gets sent to IAH, right?

      • Barton

        but the word “only” isn’t in the story. Just that right now it is available to those flying with passports. But if the point is to put it out to more airports, then they really will have to figure out how to do without passports, as most Americans don’t have one. I wasn’t clear in my forward thinking comment.

  • Guest

    EVEN if no employees are laid off, you can bet fewer than otherwise will get hired.

    Backers of the $15 minimum wage (which will affect even those over $15) can claim any statistic……. because folks never hired have no statistic.

    • Veronica

      A super low unemployment rate with a crush of Boomers retiring are already creating upward pressure on wages. It’s going to happen no matter what.

    • Dan

      These types of service automation changes are happening with technological advances, whether the minimum wage was $1 or $20. A few dollars difference in the minimum wage is like standing behind a sailboat and blowing. Might be good for marketing new tech, possibly could speed up adoption slightly, but in the end, minimum wage in regards to this topic is way more noise than signal. Nobody sunk huge capital costs developing facial recognition software in the idea you might use it for baggage drops.

  • ec99

    Delta stock closed up today .52 (+1%), so apparently the market liked the news.

  • Jeff C.

    “Delta says its only interest is speeding up the check-in process for customers,”


    Having untrained flyers perform the check-in process with a fancy computer is going to be slower than having a well-trained and experienced Delta employee perform the same task, even with an outdated computer that requires 82 keystrokes to answer 5 yes/no questions. My evidence – the self-checkout line at the grocery store. I use them as often as I fly and either they or I screw things up every time and I leave the store frustrated and delayed.

  • lindblomeagles

    Technology represents the 21st Century’s greatest threat to jobs. Facial recognition at airports; self check out lines in the grocery store; online shopping from Amazon and other department stores; robots in the manufacturing sector — it is going to become increasingly more difficult for people to work low skilled jobs.

  • Jack

    Just another reason that going by car is back to our default mode of travelling.

  • rst1317

    Mr. Collins, there’s a story in facial recognition in here somewhere. Google Photos has been offering for a free a facial recognition feature. You can go into albums and click on the face and see all the others it thinks are the same. It’s not perfect but it’s doing a good job of keeping track of people over the years with and without beards, minus or plus 40 pounds, etc.