Long customs lines at D/FW Airport frustrate travelers

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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After a 10-hour flight from London to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the last thing Becky Haskin expected was to have to wait for almost four hours to get through the customs.

On Monday evening, the line to go through U.S. Customs at D/FW Airport stretched out of the main customs hall and down several corridors.

“We started walking, and the line went out of the big room where customs is and went down three different halls and we were parallel to all the gates,” said Haskin, the former Fort Worth city council member. She estimated there were about 5,000 people in line.

D/FW Airport spokesman David Magana said the lines at the customs area in Terminal D have gotten worse during the summer as federal budget cuts have created staffing problems for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“It is unnecessary for travelers to have to wait in lengthy lines to enter the U.S.,” Magana said, adding that airport staff often takes free bottled water and chairs to passengers waiting in the hallways to enter customs. “It’s something we have been working on for a long time at D/FW Airport.”

The airport has spent $188,000 to install 30 kiosks for automated passport entry for U.S. citizens to help speed up the re-entry process. The new kiosks will be ready in November and should help reduce passenger wait times.

Magana said the airport has also helped market and promote the Global Entry program, signing up 42,000 local passengers for the program, which allows travelers who register with the customs agency to bypass customs lines.

D/FW Airport is not the only airport with long customs lines.

Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles International airports have also experienced lengthy wait times as passengers move through customs. In April, when the federal budget sequestration process began, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned there would be long lines for customs as the agency reduced overtime pay.

Messages left for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol were not returned on Tuesday afternoon.

Another passenger stuck in the long customs line on Monday evening was Youtube user Chris Crow. He posted a two-minute video of his walk the entire length of the line.

With social media, negative travel experiences can be quickly shared and influence other travelers who may be deciding whether or not to visit North Texas, said Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau chief executive Bob Jameson.

“When you consider the airport’s real growth opportunity is international travel, we need that experience to be as seamless as possible,” Jameson said. With the addition of more American Airlines flights to South America and Korea and the seasonal addition of KLM’s Amsterdam route, D/FW Airport’s international passenger traffic is up 11 percent in June compared to a year earlier.

There were four customs agents for U.S. citizens and four customs agents for international passengers, Haskin said. After making it through customs, Haskin said it became difficult to retrieve her luggage as bags from several flights had been placed in the holding room as those passengers waited to go through customs. Several travelers near Haskin in line missed connecting flights because of the long wait times.

“When it takes longer to go through customs than your entire flight, say if you flew in from Mexico, that’s a problem,” Haskin said.

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631 Twitter: @Sky_Talk

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