New self-service TSA facial recognition software available at select airports
Some cool new security features are coming soon to an airport near you.
At 16 domestic airports this summer, you can scan your driver's license or passport in lieu of handing over a boarding pass and ID for inspection while passing through some Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints thanks to updated facial recognition software currently being rolled out across the country.
Currently, a few airports don't require travelers to show a boarding pass, as they instead use credential authentication technology. A TSA officer scans each traveler's physical ID in a machine that checks in real-time if the individual is eligible to fly that day.
However, this new rollout from the TSA takes things one step further. Passengers self-scan their ID, and facial recognition technology matches the passenger to the ID instead of a human officer doing the visual comparison.
Note, though, that this new process falls short of full biometric checks, which Delta Air Lines is piloting in Atlanta and Detroit under the name "Digital ID." It will be available at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA) later this year, per an airline spokesperson. Digital ID is an alternative screening procedure that uses the passport information saved in each passenger's SkyMiles profile to match the photo taken at the checkpoint, which is also in the works.
How the new ID process works
In theory, the new machines that are being rolled out could allow for faster security thanks to their use of facial recognition software and their self-service component: Travelers insert their ID into the machine on their own and look at a camera for identity verification before proceeding through the security checkpoint as normal for verification by a TSA agent as a double-check.
The first two steps essentially replace the step of having to hand over your ID and boarding pass to an agent to scan and check, thereby eliminating some of the interaction with TSA agents typically experience before getting to the conveyer belt.
"Thus, the units reduce touchpoints and speed up the process," a spokesperson for the TSA told TPG. "Travelers insert their ID, look at the camera and if the ID is validated, the traveler then proceeds into the checkpoint. Even with TSA’s use of these units, travelers still need to check in with their airline in advance and bring their boarding pass to their gate to show the airline representative before boarding their flight."
The TSA first rolled out this new technology featuring facial recognition software to verify passengers’ identities at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in August 2020. Since then, the TSA has implemented it at a variety of other airports, including the country's busiest, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), and regional airports like Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT) and Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN) in Mississippi.
Last month, this new technology replaced all TSA security checkpoints at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
Though the TSA currently provides this self-service expedited option at 16 participating airports, participation is voluntary, according to the TSA.
At participating airports, the TSA's credential authentication technology units are equipped with cameras that match the traveler's face with their ID. If a passenger does not wish to have their photo taken, the TSA noted that the individual can avoid this step by telling the officer at the Travel Document Checker podium. Opting out should not result in a delay, as the traveler can proceed through assisted TSA security as normal.
Though this new screening procedure could "modestly" speed up the identity verification process, it currently maintains the same output rates as older technology, roughly 200 passengers per hour.
"This technology is intended principally to enhance transportation security by strengthening identity verification. In the early phase of rolling it out, TSA has noted that it does so without any degradation in throughput rates," according to a TSA spokesperson. "In fact, as passengers and officers become familiar with the technology, it is expected to have a modest improvement on throughput rates."
For passengers potentially worried about security concerns related to the TSA storing their photos, the TSA confirmed that the photos and ID photos are overwritten by the next passenger’s scan and are not saved, as they are only used to match the photo on the ID being presented.
Additionally, the TSA says that this technology enhances detection capabilities for identifying fraudulent documents at the security checkpoint.
“TSA is evaluating the use of biometric and digital identity solutions for identity verification," a TSA spokesperson told TPG. "Automated biometric technology can play an important role in increasing aviation security effectiveness, particularly at the airport checkpoint, by enhancing current manual identity verification procedures. Identity management is a central element to security screening. TSA is working to ensure that its biometric capabilities align with leading standards for identity assurance to strengthen vetting outcomes and identity verification."
Which airports have the new process?
As of May 2023, travelers can experience this self-service security screening procedure at the following airports:
- Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX).
- Denver International Airport (DEN).
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).
- Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).
- Miami International Airport (MIA).
- Harry Reid International Airport (LAS).
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).
- Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW).
- Orlando International Airport (MCO).
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).
- Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT).
- Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN).
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
Keep in mind that with roughly 200 units deployed, there's no guarantee that travelers at the above airports will be selected for these self-service portals.
"These units can be recognized by the giant vertical monitor on the passenger side of the kiosk – or Travel Document Checker podium," per TSA.
With traveler volume at U.S. airports expected to exceed pre-pandemic numbers this summer, this latest technology will be put to the test in terms of saving travelers time.
To maximize your chances of speeding through security, consider enrolling in both TSA PreCheck and Clear.