Those who travelled to India last winter (2022-2023) do still recollect the dreadful congestion at New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru airports, where insufficient staffing and inbound as well as outbound passenger influx threw the system out of gear. During peak hours of daily arrival and departure, the Indian metro airports were so overcrowded that it evoked comparisons to ‘Kumbh Mela’, Kolkata’s fish markets, and Old Delhi’s hawkers markets across social media. The concern about the unaccompanied elderly parents being subjected to long hours of immigration delay on arrival had thrown NRIs into a tizzy.
What is Trusted Traveller Program coming up at Indian airports?
To avert a repeat of the grim airport congestion in India, the government is all set to launch ‘Trusted Traveller Program’, a tech-driven immigration clearance scheme for pre-verified travelers. Similar to the Global Entry program in the USA, India’s Trusted Traveller Program will help low-risk travelers skip long immigration queues. International travelers who have subscribed to the program can directly reach the Global Entry desks at US airports and get immigration clearance done faster. Likewise, Indian airports’ Trusted Traveller Program will quicken immigration checks in a contactless manner.
How will Trusted Traveller Program work for faster immigration at Indian airports?
Soon to be launched for a pilot trial, the Trusted Traveller Program will be operated through electronic gates at airports in India. New Delhi IGI Airport has already got three e-gates, one for international departures and two for international arrivals. Trials of the e-gates at Delhi Airport will begin shortly. Travelers who will be adjudged eligible for pre-approved immigration clearance will go through the e-gates. Electronic gates will speed up passenger identity and document verification without human intervention, thereby automating the immigration clearance process and reducing the manual workload.
Travelers under the Trusted Traveller Program will be required to scan their passports and other documents. On successful scanning, a camera attached to the scanner at e-gates will click a picture of the traveler’s face. The picture will be matched against a database of blacklisted travelers to check within seconds if the traveler is prohibited from flying abroad or banned from entering the country. Travelers will also submit a biometric scan of their fingerprints to the automated immigration clearance system.
On successful clearance, the e-gates will open for them to board their flights for departure or proceed to the baggage claim area. If a traveler is flagged as a ‘person of interest’ (a crime suspect), he/she will be denied clearance through the e-gate. The flagged traveler will have to undergo manual immigration checks.
This technological edge in Indian aviation will eliminate the hassles of immigration checks for the pre-approved members of Trusted Traveller Program, especially when immigration counters are understaffed at India’s busiest airports. Initially, only New Delhi IGI and Mumbai CSMI airports will see a pilot trial of e-gates, which will be expanded to other international airports in a phased manner. To be integrated to e-gates, a fool-proof backend system for seamless passenger identity verification is crucial to the success of Trusted Traveller Program.
Eligibility criteria for Trusted Traveller Program in India
Only Indian nationals will be allowed to enroll for the Trusted Traveller Program during the pilot trial. Though a roadmap has been drawn for nationwide implementation of the program, pre-approved travelers are yet to be defined, and what eligibility norms they need to comply with are yet to decided. Travelers’ experience of expedited immigration clearance and security checking during the pilot trial of the program at Delhi and Mumbai Airports will be factored in towards expanding the program to other airports.