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OM in the News: Queuing Up at Airport Customs This Summer

June 28, 2014


Automated passport control kiosks for arriving passengers at JFK

Automated passport control kiosks for arriving passengers at JFK

Extremely long lines, which in 2013 stretched beyond four hours at times, are forecast to return again for the busy summer travel season, writes The Wall Street Journal (June 11,2014). In May, Washington Dulles, New York Kennedy and Miami International airports all experienced occasional maximum waits over 2½ hours. At San Francisco International’s Terminal A, the average wait time at Customs during the peak 1-2 p.m. hour was still 40 minutes, though that’s far better than the May 2013 average of 57 minutes at the same hour. “The cavalry is on the way, but they won’t arrive in time for this summer,” said the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “We just don’t have enough officers right now, and it’s like having one cashier at Costco.”

Budget issues have left staffing largely unchanged for years. As international travel has surged in the U.S., queues at passport control and Customs checkpoints at airports have backed up. Last year, 70 million international passengers arrived in the U.S., up from 55 million in 2009. And last summer the issue boiled over, with airports having to rush in water, chairs and cots for arriving passengers, many of whom got stranded when they missed flight connections.

The Customs department began letting airports and airlines pay to install the new Automated Passport Control kiosks for travelers who aren’t in Global Entry. (Global Entry lets travelers who have undergone fingerprinting, a background check and an in-person interview use a kiosk and bypass long lines.) Travelers scan their passports and answer questions on the kiosk while waiting in line. When they reach a Customs officer, the information can be quickly pulled up on a screen rather than entered manually by the officer. Shaving seconds off the inspection process has significantly sped up lines. At some airports, such as New York’s JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth and Orlando International, kiosks have helped reduce wait time as much as 40% despite increases in the number of people arriving.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What options do OM managers have to speed up the Customs queues?

2. Why are airlines very concerned about the long waiting times at Customs?

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