Technology reducing wait times at Customs

A mobile passport control app launched at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is expanding to other airports around the country, with the goal of reducing wait times at Customs.

Cutting down on lines is a key priority for airport officials, with expectations for a “robust summer travel season,” said airport deputy general manager Michael Smith. Passenger counts at Hartsfield-Jackson are up 4.6 percent for the first four months of 2015.

Technology reducing wait times at Customs photo

The technology tested at the Atlanta airport since last August allows arriving international travelers to submit their Customs declaration via a mobile app — though it does not replace a passport. The mobile passport control app has been expanded from Atlanta to Miami, Chicago O’Hare and Seattle-Tacoma, with plans to expand to more airports later this year.

With Hartsfield-Jackson as the world’s busiest airport, “Atlanta is the best place to test this technology,” said Kevin Burke, president of Airports Council International – North America, which helped develop the technology with private firm Airside Mobile. “If it works here, it’s going to work everywhere.”

U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors can use the app to create a profile with their passport information. Then, after landing while the plane is taxiing to the gate, they can submit their Customs declaration information through the app, then receive an electronic receipt with a square-shaped scannable QR code that lasts four hours.

Technology reducing wait times at Customs photo

At Customs, mobile passport control users then submit their passport and mobile device with the code to a Customs officer.

According to Customs, the passport information is submitted via secure encryption protocols.

Few travelers have used the mobile passport control app, but other technologies to speed processing have become popular over time, including passport control kiosks at Customs and the trusted traveler Global Entry program. Airline and Customs officials plan to encourage more travelers to use the mobile app, while continue to offer the kiosks and expedited processing through Global Entry.

“Nothing’s worse than getting off the plane after a 10 hour flight and having to wait two hours in a line,” Burke said. “That’s going away” with new technologies that speed processing.

The process with the mobile app takes 15 to 20 seconds of processing by a Customs and Border Protection officer versus 90 to 120 seconds for the older paper system, according to Airside Mobile chief executive Hans Miller.

Reducing the processing time through the kiosks and the mobile app for each passenger helps to shorten lines overall. Customs and Border Protection’s Atlanta port director Stephen Kremer said in the past year less than 1 percent of travelers coming through Hartsfield-Jackson have waited for longer than an hour at Customs, “so we’ve done really well in that arena.”

Among Delta Air Lines customers, about 54 percent use the passport control kiosks, 7 percent use Global Entry and about 1 percent use the mobile passport control app, said Delta senior vice president Greg Kennedy. He added that wait times have declined 29 percent since the 2012 opening of Hartsfield-Jackson’s international terminal and Concourse F.


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