Have you ever returned from a long business trip or gone on holiday to a tropical paradise and been greeted with a massive line at customs? All you want to do is grab your bags and be on your way. We all wish it could be that simple but in the US and many other countries clearing customs can be a tedious and stressful situation.
I once waited in the customs line for an hour in Cartagena and when finally called to an agent I was only required to supply my passport and that I was visiting for pleasure. There is a fundamental breakdown in the customs process not only in the US but around the world. Frequent travelers have been clamoring for a more streamlined customs process and in the US a handful of major hubs are investing in advanced technology to solve this problem.
Airports like O’Hare, Miami and Seattle have installed automated passport kiosks to help streamline clearing customs and decrease wait times. The kiosks were developed by the Vancouver International Airport YVR technologies under the BorderXpress program. The goal of the program is to make the travel process more efficient while maintaining a high level of safety. YVR claim that the kiosks can move a passenger through customs four times faster than the traditional method.
John F. Kennedy International airport in New York City was one of the first in the US to install such kiosks. U.S. Customs and Border Protection allowed the airports to install the kiosks because they have the ability to scan passports, and provide a receipt of the passengers declaration information, thus eliminating the need for the paper declaration form. At JFK, the bulk of the kiosks were first installed in the infamous Terminal 4, which received 40. According to the Global Gateway Alliance, an advocacy group in NYC , the wait times in Terminal 4 have dropped from 36 minutes to 17. The kiosks can shave off 10-15 seconds per passenger engagement, and when multiplied by thousands of passengers a day, that is a significant time savings.
Passport Kiosk Process
The Kiosk are open to any US or Canadian citizen with a valid passport or permanent residency card. Unlike Global Entry (which granted are faster), the kiosks require no pre-registration and do not charge a fee. Travelers follow the on-screen instructions to scan their passport, answer the declaration questions via the touch screen, have a photo taken and confirm their information before proceeding with the receipt to the Customs officer. After the Customs officer confirms the information the traveler is free to move along.
Passport Kiosk Benefit
While the obvious benefit is seen by the passengers in the form of shorter wait times, being able to cut wait times in half clearly improves the passenger experience. On the flip side there is tremendous benefit to the Customs and Border Protection officers. The kiosks remove the need for the paper declaration form, which can be annoying to fill out at the end of a long journey. This reduces the manual entry of passengers data by the customs officer, which was a contributing factor to longer wait times. It also reduces the consumption of paper, making our airports slightly greener. More importantly, the officers now have more time to conduct a risk assessment of a passenger while spending less time with administrative work.
I always hear that the “Golden Age” of flying has passed us by, and the airport can be aggravating, but with technology like passport kiosks and mobile check in apps we can reclaim valuable wasted time. The Airports 2.0 vision promotes the use of technology as a tool to increase passengers enjoyment. Whether you are tracking a flight, finding a restaurant via the tripchi app or clearing customs at a passport kiosk, advances in airport technologies are meant to work for you. Thanks to innovation, our time at the airport will be spent less in line and more on enjoying the amenities each airport has to offer. Are we entering into a golden age of airport tech? Where the headaches of the airport adventure are reduced, I very much hope so. While we are at the infancy of implementing tech advances into our travel experience, we are surely headed in the right direction.