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Skip queues at Incheon Airport checkpoints with new SmartPass service

SEOUL – No more frantic digging into your bag for your passport and boarding pass while juggling bags of shopping or hand-carry luggage.

Travellers departing from South Korea’s Incheon International Airport are now in for a more seamless experience.

Since July 28, the airport has done away with the need for departing travellers to show their passports and boarding passes at various checkpoints.

With the newly launched SmartPass service, passengers can now breeze through checks at departure halls and boarding gates with the help of facial recognition technology. 

While the use of facial recognition technology to replace boarding passes for selected airlines has already been introduced at other airports including those in the United States, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, what distinguishes Incheon Airport is the use of a mobile app for the service, an Incheon airport official said.

Travellers can download the ICN SmartPass app and follow step-by-step instructions to scan and register their passports to create a SmartPass ID.

Once they have checked in for their flight and received their boarding passes, they can use the app to scan and register the boarding pass.

Registration for the SmartPass ID can be done either via the mobile app or at selected self-service check-in kiosks at the airport, at least 30 minutes before using the facial recognition service. 

Once registered, the SmartPass ID is valid for a period of five years.

Apart from being hassle-free, the SmartPass service is said to shave up to 40 per cent off the usual time needed to complete both the security screening process to enter the departure hall and the boarding gate process.

For example, when entering the departure hall, the current practice is for an airport official to conduct a verification check of the traveller’s passport biodata page, and tally it with their boarding pass.

But with the SmartPass service, that verification process has already been completed.

Users simply need to look into the camera at the gantry and be allowed through.

Those using SmartPass can also go through designated lanes at the checkpoints and avoid long queues during peak travel periods.

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As at end August, nearly 150,000 people from 47 countries have started using the service, an Incheon International Airport spokesman told the Straits Times.

While around 90 per cent of current users are South Korean, usage is growing among foreigners.

This includes people from China, Japan, Taiwan, the US, and Singapore, with Singaporean users making up about 1 per cent.

Ms Jasmine Kao from Singapore is one of those who has tried out the service.

“You don’t need a lot of people manning it. It’s all very automated, you just check in, and then you are kind of done,” she told Arirang TV. 

South Korean national Phoebe Lee, who was travelling to Japan for a weekend getaway on Saturday, did not use the SmartPass service.

Her flight was scheduled to depart at 6.35am, and she started queueing to enter the departure hall at 5am.

It took her about 15 minutes to enter the hall.

“There were too many people, even at such an early hour,” Ms Lee told The Straits Times.

For now, passports and boarding passes still need to be presented for immigration clearance, but the authorities are looking to expand the SmartPass service in the future.

Expanded services being planned include using facial recognition for the bag-drop service and even shopping at duty-free outlets.

While all travellers can use the SmartPass service to enter the departure hall, the boarding gate service is currently limited to passengers who travel with Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air, Jin Air, T-way Air and Delta Air Lines.

But from next April, full implementation will be rolled out across all airlines flying out from the two Incheon airport terminals. 

The SmartPass service is available to people of all nationalities above the age of seven. 

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