Three pictures are side by side showing the various users of the Special Assistance Lanes, including a man in a user-wheeled wheelchair, a staff-assisted wheelchair user and a family with small children.

Singapore expands automated gates with wheelchair and family lanes

SmartSky - Finally WifI that Wows

Industry’s adoption of an automated self-service passenger experience across touchpoints in the airport journey was accelerated by the Covid pandemic, and the staff crunch that followed. At immigration, just as elsewhere in the airport, automation shortens queues, automates manual processing tasks, and frees up officers from routine work screening low-risk travellers, usually from specific countries and territories.

In Singapore, for example, travellers holding Singaporean and 49 other types of passports can use the automated arrival gates, with all visitors who register biometrics on arrival eligible to use automated lanes on departure.

But these advantages are often denied to passengers using wheelchairs, or to family groups with children too young to use the gates independently — whether that is simply because the gates are not designed to be used by more than one person or are too narrow for wheelchairs, or where the biometric scanners are positioned only for passengers above a certain height.

With the increasing reliance on these systems to reduce the number of eligible travellers queueing to be processed by an agent, a key goal is to expand the number of travellers eligible and to reduce barriers for wheelchair users and passengers with reduced mobility.

Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the island nation’s border force, is changing the status quo with a new set of larger, adapted checkpoints that it calls Special Assistance Lane, or SALs, which are available at selected passenger halls in Changi Airport.

Wider than the standard lanes, with ample space for user-wheeled, electric or staff-assisted wheelchairs, as well as for families of up to four, the SALs’ biometric scanners are also positioned in order to enable wheelchair users and shorter travellers to be able to register their details using iris and facial scans, with fingerprints used as a backup biometric identifier. Children under six years old will still need ICA officer assistance.

The process is very similar to that which is used in the standard lane checkpoints, where from July 2020 all lanes countrywide were expanded to iris and facial scanners from the previous fingerprint standard.

3 pictures are side by side showing the various users of the Special Assistance Lanes, including a man in a user-wheeled wheelchair, a staff-assisted wheelchair user and a family with small children. The chart shows the various steps required to use the SALs.

Image: Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority

One key addition is a step where travellers must also disclose the number of passengers to be checked by the automated gate. A passport scan opens the entry gate, then biometrics are scanned and registered, and the process is either successfully automated (in which case the exit gates open and the passenger or passengers continue on their journey) or requires border agent assistance.


ICA and Changi Airport worked with HTX — the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, the technology arm of the interior ministry — to design, develop and implement the new gates, including using design-thinking workshops and simulating passenger flows using virtual reality.

“Physical sessions were also conducted with persons of reduced mobility to identify potential challenges that such travellers may face when using the SAL,” the ICA says. “This included the width of the lane as well as the placement and angles of the passport and biometric scanners. Feedback from the sessions was factored into the final design of the SAL to ensure that it is user-friendly, and intuitive for travellers.”

The ICA further explains: “Trials were also conducted with HTX to determine the optimal placement of cameras and biometric scanners in the SAL, to accurately detect the number of travellers as well as ensure that the biometrics of each traveller can be clearly captured.”

With the SALs already in operation in the arrivals and departures halls of Changi Airport’s terminal 2, plus the departures in terminal 1, ICA plans to roll the system out to the rest of the airport, plus land and sea checkpoints.

Related Articles:

Featured image credited to Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority