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Govt to look into opening other parts of airport amid complaints of delays for arriving passengers: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — The Government is looking to see if they can open up other parts of the airport to ensure a smoother immigration process for travellers, following complaints about delays that passengers on arrival have experienced.

Passengers who used automated lanes which were opened this morning, took about 20 to 30 seconds to clear immigration and about eight to 10 minutes using the manual lanes.

Passengers who used automated lanes which were opened this morning, took about 20 to 30 seconds to clear immigration and about eight to 10 minutes using the manual lanes.

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SINGAPORE — The Government is looking to see if they can open up other parts of the airport to ensure a smoother immigration process for travellers, following complaints about delays that passengers on arrival have experienced.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) is working with the Changi Airport Group to divert passengers to other immigration halls to alleviate congestion should there be bunching of flights.

Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said to reporters on Friday (Oct 29) during a visit to Changi Airport that there have been “some comments from some passengers” on their experiences.

“Last week (on a particular day), we had five flights that were bunched up. The processes were a little bit different. It took more than an hour, 90 minutes or so. We looked at how that can be dealt with, separated out, so that we are prepared for bunching up.” 

Singapore now has quarantine-free travel arrangements with 13 countries, of which 10 have begun.

Mr Shanmugam said that given the increase in traveller volume, the requirement for testing and, particularly, if several flights arrive in quick succession, clearances may take longer.

In pre-pandemic times, when flights bunched up, there was the flexibility to move passengers to different parts of the airport, but given the need for safety protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic, the authorities have to deal with certain constraints.

“​​But pre-Covid, sometimes it can take you 40, 45 minutes, depending on the number of passengers,” he said in response to a question about the difference in ​​time it takes for travellers to go through immigration before the pandemic and now.

Mr Shanmugam, who was at the airport to observe passengers arriving on a designated vaccinated travel lane flight from London, said that there was an observable difference in experience for passengers who submit the necessary declarations online before reaching immigration counters and those who do not.

“We have to pull them out, fill in the forms, (so it) took slightly longer,” he said.

Passengers who used automated lanes that were opened on Friday morning took about 20 to 30 seconds to clear immigration and about eight to 10 minutes using the manual lanes, assuming there is no bunching up of the flights, Mr Shanmugam added.

“But since then (the extension of vaccination travel lanes on Oct 19), we have tried to streamline the processes, and I think travellers, generally, are more aware of the need to pre-fill (forms) so that the experience will be better for them. And automated lanes should help for Singaporeans and permanent residents.” 

The time taken for a passenger to go through the immigration processes is also a “question of risk tolerance for the country”, Mr Shanmugam said.

A traveller from a  low-risk country using a vaccinated travel lane is required to take an on-arrival Covid-19 test, which can add another 20 to 30 minutes to the process.

“There are other countries, other airports, which don’t do it. Heathrow (in London), for example, does not do on-arrival testing, so of course the experience for the traveller is better, but you go home, you make an appointment.

“But, there is a difference in risk tolerance. Here, we also make a difference between countries according to risk tiering, and that adds a further layer of checks,” he said.

A Facebook user by the name of Chris Kuan posted about his friend’s experience upon landing in Singapore from a vaccination travel lane flight.

“It was horrific to see the long vaccination travel lane queues at the ICA areas, moving at incredibly slow rates as the officers have to check the passport, and after finding out that you now have to submit an electronic ICA Arrival Form, which could have been more expeditiously completed before boarding the vaccination travel lane flight,” he wrote.

Mr Kuan’s friend, known just as "JSV", said that travellers are also required to have their picture taken five times.

He added that after collecting his luggage, he had to walk to a tentage area to make payment before his swab test, which added to time taken to exit the airport, along with the waiting time of 45 minutes to get swabbed.

JSV compared this to his experience at the Manchester Airport in England where he said all he had to do was submit a form online, which could be done remotely with the booking reference of an authorised polymerase chain reaction test outlet and other requisite details.

“This system was pro-active and notified you of all the information they require and they are linked to the authorised testing outlet… you show them the booking QR code and ID documents and it’s all done within 10 minutes — no hassle about payment as it’s a prepaid system, and all one has to endure is the queue time of 45-30 minutes,” he wrote.

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Changi Airport travel immigration ICA K Shanmugam vaccination

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