Covid-19: Eye and face scans part of touch-free travel at Changi Airport

Remote video URL
Passengers who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics will be prompted to look into the cameras after scanning their passport, for identity verification. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
More than 400 pieces of acrylic screens will be installed at check-in, immigration, customs, GST refund and information counters. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Changi Airport Group is exploring the installation of contactless lift buttons using infrared technology. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Autonomous cleaning robots have been equipped with a misting attachment that disinfects the carpets immediately after cleaning. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Externally mounted UV-C devices are also being explored for the close to 300 escalators and travellators across Changi’s terminals. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Facial and iris recognition, instead of fingerprint scanning, will be the primary biometric identifier for travellers at Changi Airport's immigration clearance. They will also be able to operate self check-in and baggage drop machines without touching them. A trial is underway to allow them to operate lifts without touching the buttons as well.

This means that travellers will be able to breeze through Changi Airport with minimal contact with staff and surfaces.

The measures are part of the push by the airport to improve safety for travellers amid the Covid-19 pandemic even as it awaits the resumption of mass travel.

The new facilities were showcased at a media briefing at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on Wednesday (July 1).

Changi Airport Group's (CAG) executive vice-president for airport management Tan Lye Teck said: "Passengers will expect airports to deliver the highest standards of safety and hygiene to give them peace of mind during their journey, and we will rapidly bring on board new measures as we go into a new normal for air travel.

"CAG will work with other aviation partners to instil a high sense of confidence among travellers going through Changi Airport when air travel eventually resumes."

The use of facial and iris recognition as the primary option began around April, and is now in place at Terminals 1 and 3 at Changi Airport.

It will allow passengers, whose facial and iris data have been enrolled by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), to bypass the need to use the fingerprint scanner for identity verification.

They will just have to look into the iris and facial scan cameras.

Passengers will still be required to scan their passports as per current requirements.

"Only when identification via iris and facial scans are unsuccessful, or if the passengers have yet to enrol their iris and facial biometrics with ICA, will they be prompted to scan their fingerprint instead," said CAG. As a precaution, the fingerprint scanner has been sprayed with a disinfectant coating. Hand sanitisers are also available for passengers to use just after the automated immigration lanes.

The ICA has been enrolling iris images of customers during their transactions - such as the collection of passports - at its service centres since 2017. Those with passport numbers starting with the letter "K" will also have had their iris scans registered by ICA.

The Straits Times understands that these passports have been issued since October 2017.

For Singapore residents and foreigners who have yet to have their iris or facial scans registered by ICA, they can just go through the manual immigration process once for the data to be registered.

On the contactless check-in and baggage drop machines, CAG said more than 160 machines had been fitted with proximity touch screens and infrared sensors to track finger movements.

More than 160 automated kiosks across Terminals 1 and 3 will be fitted with proximity touch screens, with infrared sensors to track finger movements. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

This allows travellers to just hover their fingers above the screens to select options as opposed to tapping on the screen directly.

CAG has also put in place several other precautions in the last few months.

For example, it has installed acrylic screens at check-in counters at Terminal 3 to provide a physical barrier between travellers and check-in staff. In total, about 400 screens will be installed at check-in, immigration, Customs, GST refund and information counters.

In addition, it is trialling the use of ultraviolet-C light technology to disinfect handrails on escalators and travellators.

These measures come on top of the stepped-up cleaning measures announced previously.

Mr Albert Lim, senior vice-president of passenger experience at CAG, said: "For the majority of these innovations we have put in place, I think it will become a way of life of how we manage the airport.

"It will be here to stay."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.