The end is near for passport stamps

Passport stamps

A passenger places a finger on a biometric fingerprint reader. Source: Shutterstock

PASSPORT stamps are a one-way ticket to bragging rights, but they might become a thing of the past.

Often seen as souvenirs from time spent exploring new lands, passport stamps are loved by many.

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But they are one of the reasons airport queues now seem longer than ever.

Currently, immigration officials flick through the pages making sure your previous travel itineraries don’t conflict with their national laws and ensuring you are who you say you are.

With the number of global travelers expected to increase to 7.6 billion in the next 20 years and terminal expansions undoubtedly taking longer, airports are employing technology as a solution to handle the surge.

As electronic entry procedures are making an appearance in more airports than ever, the beloved ink mark of travel could become a nostalgic memory.

But what are the technologies looking to improve airport experience, reduce immigration queues and get passengers flowing more fluidly than a jet stream?

ePassports

ePassports are identifiable through the little chip symbol on the passport cover.

The ePassport works alongside an electronic immigration gate.

The gate can read all the data stored in the chip –  the type of information it would take a human immigration officer a while to get through.

According to Acuity Market Intelligence principal Maxine Most, Asia has the highest number of installed eGates in the world with 38 percent, followed by Europe with 37 percent.

Biometrics 

Biometric technology has crept into our everyday life: using fingerprints to unlock phones, accessing high-tech houses and even jail cells in the US using our faces, and using voice commands to summon AI virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and iPhone’s Siri.

Now, airports are installing biometric identification systems to quickly identify passengers through fingerprints and facial recognition.

For example, Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) uses biometric technology. The systems can recognize and match the passport picture to the passenger’s face.

KLIA also requires passengers to create electronic copies of their fingerprints.

Facial images and fingerprints are recorded and stored in a database for future use.

Except for Chinese travelers visiting New Zealand, eGates employing biometric technology are primarily reserved for nationals of the country you’re entering, which means passport stamps and longer immigration queues may still be available to you.

Smart Gates

Originally launched in Brisbane Airport, Smart Gates have also been rolled out across Dubai.

Using real-time databases, unlike eGates, a Smart Gate can identify a traveler and detect any abnormalities through facial recognition and other biometric measures.

Smart Gates can also read the information in your passport and cross-check this with any databases accessible in the country.

So, for example, if a traveler is on a no-fly list, the Smart Gate can flag this up immediately. This is the type of information human passport controllers may not have access to.

If used correctly, Smart Gates can whizz travelers through immigration in a matter of seconds.

Landing slips

As the rest of the world seems to be going paperless, this method of “quick immigration” may still seem a little old.

Unfortunately, it’s still not a passport stamp.

The little slips are issued with the date of entry and how long you’re permitted to stay in the country.

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It is advisable to lodge them in your passport as immigration may ask to see them on departure.

It is not advisable, however, to take it upon yourself to glue the slip into your passport.

No matter how persuasive your inner “travel bragging” voice may be, this could be classed as tampering and defacing your passport, making it invalid.

Is it a thumbs up or down from passengers?

“The next major wave of biometric border automation – currently in its infancy – includes integrating biometric check-in, bag drop, and boarding with passport control,” Most added.

According to SITA’s  Passenger IT Trends Survey, 57 percent of passengers say they would prefer biometrics to passports and physical boarding passes.

So, with no sign of integrated technology in airports slowing down, it’s likely all passengers passing through major terminals will have to get tech-savvy and get ready to say bye-bye to passport stamps.