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Get Smart—Dubai Airport’s fancy new scanners leave a lot to be desired

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The newly launched and much celebrated facial scanners at Dubai Airport are far from perfect– something Kipp found out the hard way.

March 20, 2013 7:45 by



Convenience is one of the many reasons I enjoy flying into Dubai Airport’s shinny new Terminal 3. Sure, you may end up spending a considerable amount of time navigating through a blur of never-ending walkalators, but once you arrive at immigration and the luggage carousel you can be assured of one thing: efficiency.

Earlier this year, residents of the UAE were told they could expect this efficiency to be exponentially increased due to the introduction of the smart gate – a new system which would users scanners to verify computer-readable passports with facial recognition.

Speaking at the India Club, General Mohammad Ahmed Al Marri, Director-General of the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs said:  “The directorate, in response to the increasing number of passengers (using the Dubai International Airport is fixing smart e-gates to ease passengers’ suffering, provide faster, easier and more accurate and secure services, and cope with the latest and ever-changing technologies.”

Proposed to be launched on 1st of January, the smart gate was to reduce the check-in and check-out time at immigration to a mere 18 seconds.

Having flown into Terminal 3 twice since the beginning of this year, I would say the entire procedure has being anything but smart. For one thing, there are two counters reserved for residents of the UAE – something signage fails to indicate. Unaware of this special consideration when I flew back in to Dubai in February, I ended up behind a pack of excited tourists and nervous workers. It took me an entire one and a half hour just to get out of immigration – a delay that was a source of much frustration, especially since I was off a 45-minute flight from Doha.

The second time around, I vowed to be proactive. I quickly found out about the two counters at the end reserved for residents. Considerably shorter than the rest, these queues got me congratulating myself on out-smarting the ‘smart’ system. What a fool I was.

Unlike all the other counters – these special come equipped with Minority-Report-style special scanners which scan ones passport and face. If it seems simple enough, well then you clearly haven’t lived in Dubai for as long as I have. Not only was there absolute confusion about the process or how the computers worked, but there was no clear direction between the men behind the desks and the ones on the floor.

It took me nearly 40 minutes to get to the top of the line and when it was my turn to scan my passport, I realized what the fuss was all about. While the passport scanner was able to quickly pick up my details (which are already on the system) – the facial scanner failed to identify me. Perhaps it was far too optimistic to assume the scanner would be able to detect and verify my face, after all I do stand at a mighty 4’11”—but I noticed nobody else was getting through.

In retrospect, users have to have their face scanned into the database prior (something I haven’t done and am still unaware how to do). That being said, surely the onus falls on the authorities regulating the line to direct the users into the right line.

So, of course, then I had to get away from the independent sleek glass doors which encapsulate the scanner areas and reclaim my spot on the line for the manual check-which took all of 50 seconds. So sure, the good ol’ ink stamp may be a far cry from the sophistication of the futuristic ‘smart’ gate, but if it means a lesser waiting time, well, I will take it any day.



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