Earlier today, some MD of a security firm on channel new asia commented that it is impossible to check every single passport against the list of stolen passports due to the time needed to search the database. Such stringent checks would result in massive holdups at checkpoints. Therefore, apart from biometric passports which have an added layer of security, immigration officers can only do a visual comparison of the face and the passport photo. The statement was made in context to 2 passengers using stolen passports to board the flight MH370.
It is definitely appalling that despite the state of technology today, we are still using humans to do a visual comparison. Even with biometrics out of the picture, there are a lot of other ways to improve on the current process. E.g. Photographs can be taken and software can map out and calculate the distance between certain features and compare it to the passport photos. I am sure that it would be way more reliable then visual checks by humans. There are probably many other methods such as using fingerprint that would be better than the current system. Such technology has also been around for quite some time and implementation costs are quite low.
Indeed, security only comes to the forefront after a major breach such as this has occurred. It is also extremely difficult to change due to the fact that all countries have to support the new standard.
A quick search online revealed that interpol has a list of 40 million stolen passports. While I am no expert, I am guessing that with today's hardware(SSDs) and proper database tuning (possibly the use of in-memory dbms like redis), the query should not take longer than a few seconds, just long enough for the officer to chop on the passport.