With the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, a terraced tropical garden with more than 900 trees and 60,000 shrubs, and a walking path dotted with life-size dinosaur sculptures, Singapore’s Changi Airport is consistently ranked the best in the world. And soon, it’ll also be one of the most high-tech.
Starting sometime in the first half of 2024, you won’t need to show your passport if you’re traveling through Singapore. All you’ll need to pass through security and immigration is your face—the airport is switching to biometric technology and facial recognition technology instead of having agents physically check travel documents to move travelers through the airport more quickly.
“Biometrics will be used to create a single token of authentication that will be employed at various automated touchpoints, from bag-drop to immigration and boarding,” the country’s communications minister, Josephine Teo, said in a speech to Singapore’s parliament on September 18. “This will reduce the need for passengers to repeatedly present their travel documents at these touchpoints, allowing for more seamless and convenient processing.”
In just August 2023, more than 5.15 million passengers transited through Changi, which is still shy of the nearly 6 million passengers the airport saw in the same month in 2019. As the tourism industry continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic, that number is expected to rise, especially after the completion of Changi’s Terminal 5 (slated for around the mid-2030s).
“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.
Already, Changi uses the technology for automated lanes at immigration. And while you won’t need to flash your passport in the Singapore airport once the new tech goes into effect, you will need to bring it on your travels, as it will still be necessary when you land in another country and upon returning home from abroad. (And it’s a good idea to keep on hand in case customs officers need to double-check your documents.)
Singapore isn’t the only airport that is increasing its reliance on biometric technology and facial recognition. Those flying Emirates through Dubai (specifically those using the Terminal 3) can board their aircraft with just facial recognition by the end of the year.
Europe is working on a new tech-driven Entry/Exit System (EES) that will keep track of visitors as they cross borders. And in the United States, biometric face scanners are already in use at Global Entry kiosks, and some airlines (like United, American, Delta, and JetBlue) are testing facial recognition technology for check-in, bag drops, and boarding at select gates.