Philadelphia International Airport begins biometric facial comparison program for international flights

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Thursday, March 25, 2021
Philly airport begins biometric facial comparison program
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U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the implementation of a biometric facial comparison system. It is called 'Simplified Arrival.'

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- International travel might not be picking up until later this year, but flying back into Philadelphia International Airport will have new screening measures.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the implementation of a biometric facial comparison system. It is called 'Simplified Arrival.'

CBP officials say the secure, touchless process fulfills a longstanding congressional mandate to biometrically record the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens.

"CBP is excited to partner with Philadelphia International Airport to deliver a safe and secure identity verification process at PHL that protects the privacy of all travelers," Keith Fleming, Acting Director of Field Operations, Baltimore Field Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement Wednesday. "CBP's public-private partnerships to expand facial biometrics have been critical to further strengthen our nation's security, streamline travel, and enhance the customer experience while supporting travel recovery efforts."

Travelers process their U.S. admissions using CBP's enhanced biometric facial comparison process at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).
CBP Photo/Paul Belinsky

Simplified Arrival is voluntary for American citizens and select foreign nationals who are not required to provide biometrics, CBP says.

"Eligible travelers who wish to opt out of the new facial biometric process may notify a CBP officer when approaching the primary inspection point," the statement reads.

Travelers who opt out will be required to present a valid travel document.

Here is how CBP explains the process:

"Simplified Arrival only uses the biometric facial comparison process at a time and place where travelers are already required by law to verify their identity by presenting a travel document. When travelers arrive from overseas, they will pause for a photo at the primary inspection point. The photograph is compared to the traveler's passport or visa photo retrieved from government holdings. The Simplified Arrival process will complement the facial biometric boarding process planned at PHL in the future and will further secure and enhance the customer experience.

Simplified Arrival pairs one of the industry's highest ranked facial comparison algorithms (as assessed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology) with trained CBP officers who are skilled at verifying the authenticity of travel documents. The facial comparison process only takes a few seconds and is more than 98 percent accurate."

CBP officers processed nearly 600,000 international travelers at the Philadelphia airport last year, and more than 1.6 million travelers during 2019 prior to COVID-19 restrictions.

A similar system for flights departing Philadelphia is coming next year.

"The timing of the Simplified Arrival program couldn't be better in Philadelphia, with increased international travel ramping up for the summer season," Chellie Cameron, PHL CEO, said. "The convenience, accuracy and speed of this touchless program will streamline the passenger experience while preparing us for the introduction of our outbound biometric exit program in 2022."