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Passport Kiosks Best News in Years for International Air Travel

"Global Gateway Alliance's customs wait times studies have shown that automated passport kiosks work, cutting wait times by almost half at the two JFK terminals in which they've been deployed," Sitt said, in a prepared statement. "Now it's time to bring these kiosks and proper staffing to all of the international arrivals terminals at New York and New Jersey airports."

Alliance director Stephen Sigmund noted, however, that "kiosks are only one part of the answer. The airports also need "more CBP manpower, smarter staffing (like allowing officers to move between terminals and not having them do back office administrative tasks) and enough money," he said.

(DAL - Get Report) is paying for 190 kiosks to be installed at its hub airports by this summer. Included are 52 at JFK, 74 at Atlanta, 30 at Detroit, 14 at Seattle 10 at LAX and 10 at Minneapolis.  "Improving and speeding up the entry process for our customers has been a top priority for Delta," said CEO Richard Anderson in a prepared statement.

United (UAL - Get Report) too has paid for kiosks in its hubs and is eagerly awaiting kiosks at Newark and San Francisco.

"These kiosks have reduced wait times for customers arriving at Chicago O'Hare and in Houston, and we're excited to offer the same convenience to customers arriving in Newark," said United spokesman Luke Punzenberger. "Another important benefit is that our customers connecting in Newark can get to their connecting flights more quickly."

San Francisco International Airport, the premier U.S. hub for Asia, will issue a request for kiosk proposals next month and expects to have them in place next spring. "The goal would be to select a vendor to implement a total of 40 APC (automated passport control) units, split evenly between our two processing locations within Customs," said airport spokesman Doug Yakel.

San Francisco International has 82 daily international flights including 22 daily to Asia.

On a sour note, it has been a very long wait.  Here we will mention that on Thursday, Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, briefed reporters on an unseemly problem: Sometimes U.S. legislators and regulators -- inhcluding CBP --- act in behalf of foreign airlines at the expense of U.S. airlines.

Recently, a Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facility opened in Abu Dhabi. The facility allows passengers to the U.S. to clear customs in Abu Dhabi. Yet no U.S. airlines fly to Abu Dhabi. Most Abu Dhabi passengers fly on Middle East airlines.

It appears that the State Department enabled the facility in return for unknown concession in other areas. "It's unacceptable when you arrive in the U.S. and your first experience is the two, three, or four or sometimes five hours you wait to transit customs because of the understaffing and mismanagement at CBP," Moak said. "It seems (to be) in the best interest of the airline industry and America to correct that problem first."

While Customs and Border Protection provides service in Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi provides 85% of the funding), it awaits congressional funding to add airport inspectors in the U.S.  Congress, however, has focused as usual on a hot button political issue, "protecting our borders," which, of course, primarily means the border with Mexico, rather than the airports that enable the vast majority of U.S. border crossings.

A recently approved bill funds 2,000 new CBP officers. About 55% of them will be on the Mexican border, and none will be deployed anywhere until next summer.

As for this summer, travelers at airports with passport kiosks will be the lucky ones.  

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

To contact this writer,
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Follow @tedreednc

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