Traveling through one of the world’s best airports is set to get even smoother next year.
Starting in 2024, officials say Singapore’s Changi Airport will introduce automated immigration clearance, which will allow passengers to depart the city-state without passports, using only biometric data.
“Singapore will be one of the first few countries in the world to introduce automated, passport-free immigration clearance,” Communications Minister Josephine Teo announced during a parliament session on Monday, during which several changes to the country’s Immigration Act were passed.
Biometric technology, along with facial recognition software, is already in use to some extent in Changi Airport at automated lanes at immigration checkpoints.
But the upcoming changes will “reduce the need for passengers to repeatedly present their travel documents at touch points and allow for more seamless and convenient processing,” Teo said.
Biometrics will be used to create a “single token of authentication” that will be employed at various automated touch points – from bag drops to immigration clearance and boarding – eliminating the need for physical travel documents like boarding passes and passports.
But passports will still be required for many countries outside of Singapore that do not offer passport-free clearance, Teo stressed.
Often ranked the world’s best airport and also one of the busiest, Singapore’s Changi Airport serves more than 100 airlines that fly to 400 cities in around 100 countries and territories worldwide.
It handled 5.12 million passenger movements in June, crossing the 5 million mark for the first time since January 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
The airport is a destination in itself and currently has four terminals.
It is set to expand, adding a fifth to cater to the growing number of travelers.
Changi Airport is projecting a return to pre-pandemic levels of passenger and air traffic and expressed hopes that the upcoming biometric system will help make passenger flows smoother.
“Our immigration systems must be able to manage this high and growing volume of travelers efficiently and provide a positive clearance experience, while ensuring our security,” Teo said.
The future of travel?
Seamless travel has been catching on around the world and biometric identification could soon be the future of travel, observers say.
In 2018, Dubai International Airport introduced biometric “Smart Gates” tunnels, which use facial recognition to verify travelers’ identities in as little as five seconds. Passengers are also allowed to use their fingerprints or face scans for authentication, rather than rely on physical passports.
Elsewhere in the world, facial recognition technology is already in use to some extent at Hong Kong International Airport, Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda, Indira Gandhi International in Delhi, London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle, among other airports.
Digital IDs, compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards in Aruba, allow travelers to travel using secure digital versions of their passports on mobile phones.
In the US, major airlines like American Airlines, United and Delta have been experimenting with biometric check-in, bag drops and boarding gates at select airports for the last couple of years.