Image: Vance Walstra

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has big plans to change the way passengers board international departing flights.

Given a Congressional mandate to better track foreign nationals departing the United States, CBP sought options to collect the necessary biometric data without creating gridlock at the airport. The initiative will launch in the fall at Terminal F of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in partnership with Delta Air Lines. Gates should be equipped by October 15 and the full experience is expected to be live by December 1.

Key to the process is CBP’s ability to streamline its data matching process. The aggregate database of photo data available to the agency is massive, making the facial recognition matching process a relatively slow experience. Cooperation between the airlines and CBP allows for a pool of passenger  identities to be prepared and served to the participating entities. John Wagner, Office of Field Operations, US CBP deputy executive assistant commissioner, said that by querying only 200–300 photos rather than millions, CBP “drops the match time below two seconds on average.”

Delta Air Lines’ SVP Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance, John Laughter noted that the process saves nine minutes in boarding a flight. “That’s nine minutes we give back to our passengers and to our employees.”

CBP’s role is only in developing and managing the dataset. “We want to be able to conform to any way the experts [airlines] choose to apply it,” said Wagner. Implementation and passenger experience will remain in the realm of the airlines, with CBP improving security and reducing touchpoints throughout the terminal.