Anyone who has entered the US internationally knows that the lines for US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) screening can often be very long. When Global Gateway Alliance (GGA), a trade organization established to address the challenges faced by the New York City metropolitan region’s airports and related infrastructure, and the U.S. Travel Association conducted a study of wait times at JFK’s US CBP screening, they showed extreme wait times for passengers arriving back into the United States. GGA reported some waits of up to 5 hours!
The solution (partly financed by Delta Air Lines) was to bring in forty Automated Passport-Control (APC) kiosks to JFK’s Terminal 4. JFK is the busiest US entry point for international passengers and thus a perfect place for the technology to be tested. Upon arrival at Terminal 4, US Citizens are directed to the option of using the APC kiosks while foreign nationals are directed to the standard lines for inspection and Global Entry registered customers are directed to a separate lane to use the Global Entry kiosks. US Citizens are directed to the option of using the APC kiosks where they can scan their US Passport and follow the prompts to answer a few questions. A photo is taken and a receipt printed. The receipt is then handed to a CBP Officer at a booth.
Reports on the effectiveness of the automated kiosks are extremely positive. As of November 2013—one month into their use—the average wait times were cut in half! The average wait is now 16.6 minutes, down from 34.9 minutes in October 2012. Maximum wait times, which includes foreign nationals who are not eligible to use the APC kiosks, are still at an undesirable 58.2 minutes, but that is down from the 97 minutes reported in 2012. GGA is now calling for the technology to be implemented at all international terminals citing the fact that delays at airports hurt the economy of New York and the US as a whole.
We first heard about these automated kiosks after having completed a Global Entry application for a client. Global Entry is a CBP program that allows expedited customs clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. We wondered what additional benefits were included with Global Entry that did not come with the kiosks; in other words, was the $100 fee and the Global Entry application process worth it? In short, yes. For one, Global Entry is available at many more airports. Secondly, the automation kiosk process still requires the arriving passenger to hand the receipt to an officer, whereas with Global Entry, unless there’s a problem, no interaction with an officer is required. Thirdly, Global Entry is available to Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card holders) while only US citizens may use the APC kiosks.
Additionally, there may still be lines with the automated kiosks (albeit shorter ones) whereas Global Entry lines are likely to be much shorter or non-existent. Finally, the best reason for signing up for Global Entry is the opportunity to be entered into the TSA pre-check procedure to avoid the lengthier security lines after checking in for a flight. That can save a person a great deal of time and perhaps even a missed fight. But whether Global Entry or the GGA automated kiosks, any technology that decreases wait times at CBP is welcome.
UPDATE: My colleague Joseph (returning to JFK via an international flight) used the automated kiosks in Terminal 4 and reported that there was no line, plenty of available kiosks with helpful staff to assist, and the whole process took under five minutes. While this is below the recorded average time and may be an anomoly, it is encouraging to see this can be done.