With heightened security and the completion of a 324 billion won (US$284 million) renovation project, the Jeju International Airport will see big changes this year.
From Jan. 1 of this year, all foreigners entering the country through Jeju are being digitally fingerprinted as well as having their photo taken to prevent terrorism and illegal immigrants and foreigners with extensive criminal records from entering the country.
“This new security measure will protect Korean citizens’ lives and assets by stopping possible terrorists and crime-prone foreigners from coming into Korea. At the same time, it is expected to help handle the increasing number of crimes committed by foreigners,” read a Ministry of Justice press release translated from Korean.
The electronic fingerprint scanning system has been installed at all international airports in Korea. Foreigners will be scanned on entering Korea, except for those under 17 years of age, ambassadors, or “those who are approved to be exempted … by a director of any central government office,” said Kim Hyo Jae of the Ministry of Justice Immigration Planning Division.
According to Kim, there are roughly 170,000 illegal immigrants in Korea and though it is impossible to know how they exactly entered the country, the Ministry of Justice Immigration Planning Division expects that the new security measures will cause “a decreasing trend in the number of illegal immigrants” coming to Korea.
The fingerprinting machines are located at immigration checkpoints and in 11 languages informs travelers to place both index fingers on the machine for scanning and then it will also take their picture. The entire process, said Kim, takes only a matter of seconds.
Annie Chen, 25, who arrived here from China on Jan. 13, said that being fingerprinted was “new to me” and that Canada, where she is a university student, doesn’t have this preventative security measure.
“If it’s only for foreigners then I feel like my identity, my rights are being invaded,” Chen told The Weekly in the international arrivals terminal of Jeju International Airport. “They have no right to know about my fingerprints,” though she said that having her photo taken was not an issue.
Alva Shen, 23, arrived to Jeju on the same plane as Chen, had a different opinion. She said she has no problem with being fingerprinted and that the immigration process took slightly longer than usual but it was “not a big deal … I’m fine with it.”
Also, to be completed this July at the airport is the 324 billion won renovation project that has been underway since 2007.
The renovation project is now in its fourth and final phase with revamping the domestic departure terminal. The other three phases consisted of expanding the runways, expansion of the parking lot, and building the international terminal.
“Before the construction, the airport could comfortably fit 12 million people, but after the construction it will fit 23 million people a year, which is almost doubled,” said Korea Airports Corporation Construction Manager Jung Koon Hyun.
With the rapid annual increase of tourists to Jeju over the past decade, this renovation project is expected to alleviate congestion, make it easier and quicker for passengers to board planes, and will enable the airport to accommodate more flights.
In the final stage of renovation, Jung said that when completed the domestic terminal will be 23,000 square meters larger than prior to construction.
One of the advancements will be a reorganizing of the route one must take from checking their bags to going through security to boarding the plane. Currently, the path is somewhat disjointed requiring passengers to waste time getting from one station to the next.
“Now the security counter is being moved to the center,” said Jung.
On average Jung explained a passenger must walk 350 meters from checking their bags to getting to their gate, but after renovations this number will be reduced to 220 meters.
For Lee So Yeon, 43, who came to Jeju from Busan with her family for vacation, the airport will benefit from these alterations.
“It was a little unpleasant and a little inconvenient,” she said from the domestic departures terminal. Having landed in Jeju the previous weekend, she remarked that it was overly crowded, and that the expansion will be beneficial. “There is a lot of traffic and people and you have to move around a lot,” she said.
Along with the expansion of the domestic terminal the Korea Airports Corporation plans to install check-in kiosks, allowing passengers to do much of the boarding process themselves. This will simplify the check-in process and lessen the amount of time one spends at the airport. On top of this passengers will also be allowed to check-in from home via the Internet or a smartphone app that the airport is currently working on.
This will “allow you to check-in at your home and reduces the security checkpoint time,” said Jung.
With the smartphone app passengers will also be able to book flights and receive real-time information about delays and amenities at the airport.
A first in Korea will be the creation of a station in the airport specifically for rental car companies. Jung said that previously there were many complaints about parking at the airport and the distance one must travel to reach a rental car agency. When the rental car station finishes construction early this year, passengers will not have to leave the terminal and take a shuttle bus or a taxi to pick up their rental cars.
According to Jung, the final stage of renovation, at a cost of 80 billion won ($70 million), is already 60 percent complete.
(Angela Kim contributed to this report)