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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Narita, Haneda and Kansai install facial recognition boarding

Japan's three main airports cut wait times ahead of 2020 Olympics

The departure lounge at Narita Airport: the Japanese government wants 40 million foreigners to visit Japan in 2020. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

TOKYO -- Japan's three main international airports will start using facial recognition to streamline security checks and the boarding process starting in 2020, cutting wait times ahead of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Starting in the spring, passengers will be able to register their ticket and passport information into a special system at check-in at Narita and Haneda, the main airports serving the Tokyo area, as well as at Kansai Airport near Osaka. This means they will no longer have to show these items at security checkpoints and boarding gates.

Japan's big airports already use facial recognition at automated passport control kiosks. But use in other types of airport screening is a novel step.

The new system will cost about 3.2 billion yen ($29.2 million) and be funded through a new departure tax on tourists that launched in January. The tax is expected to raise about 54 billion yen in fiscal 2020, up 8% from the current period ending in March.

The Japanese government is working on other initiatives to streamline arrival and departure procedures for foreign visitors, with the goal of attracting 40 million tourists from overseas in 2020. One idea is to place electronic tags on checked baggage in Japan, so travelers can see how long they need to wait before their bags can be picked up via a smartphone app or displays at the destination airport. The government will iron out details with airport operators and airlines.

Japan is also launching a preclearance program, sending immigration officers to airports abroad so travelers can go through passport control before they depart. It will start with travelers headed to 13 Japanese airports from Taiwan, with plans to expand to other locations in the future.

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