There’s a story about Paul McCartney that demonstrates how famous he is. According to the diary of his friend and roadie Mal Evans, when arriving at Nice airport without his passport McCartney said to the border guard “you know who I am” and then walked through unimpeded.
We could all have that experience soon, as facial recognition software works its way into airports around the world.
Passengers who regularly pass through Amsterdam Schiphol or Sydney Kingsford Smith, for instance, will be used to straightening up, removing glasses and remembering not to smile too much for the camera-as-passport guard on the way out.
It’s not just for passport control.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency has been running trials of its so-called Biometric Exit visa technology at a number of airports to check people’s visa status in real-time and British fintech firm ObjectTech recently inked a deal with Dubai airport to develop what it calls a seamless entry system allowing passengers to breeze from the flight to the baggage claim and then straight out the door without every having to interact with another human.
Now Delta airlines are taking a step into facial recognition, unveiling four self-service bag drop machines at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP) at a total cost of $600,000.
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Customers print off their baggage tags themselves at in-airport kiosks then scan their boarding pass and drop the bags on the machine which quickly weights it and sends it on its way.
All the while, cameras zoom in on the passenger’s face, matching it to the passport photo on file.
“For customers, this technology eliminates friction and offers the opportunity to design your own experience,” said Toby Broberg, vice president of airport customer service at MSP, in a statement released by Delta.
But though Broberg also said the system will help Delta “deliver on the excellent service for which Delta is known” both Delta and the industry as a whole are suffering from a series of incidents questioning that excellence.
Last month a video surfaced showing a family with two infants being kicked off an overbooked Delta flight they had paid for. In the video an attendant says:
At this point you guys are on your own.
The month before, a flight was delayed and the passengers forced to deplane after a man attempted to use the bathroom after an extended wait.
United Airlines, one of Delta’s main competitors experienced its own PR backlash when David Dao was violently dragged from the plane.
Videos such as these have led to significant PR backlash against airlines, as even those customers not directly affected vent their frustrations with the carriers by filming events as well as sharing and re-sharing.
With the ubiquity of camera-phones and a clientele on the lookout for any infraction, maybe the best idea is just to cut out the staff altogether.
Though certainly not the main intention behind the biometric and facial recognition technology moving into airports across the world, it is possible that by shortening the interaction time between passengers and airline staff the risk also goes down of such PR nightmares occurring.
By working to give their customers more of the rock-star treatment, say being recognised immediately and having your bag taken care of for you, the airlines are also ensuring no actual staff get in the way of that “seamless” experience.
Unless, of course, there’s a problem with their baggage system.