Automated kiosks speed up customs process at DFW Airport

02/10/2014 5:49 PM

02/11/2014 11:44 AM

Re-entering the United States at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is now as simple as scanning your passport and answering four questions on a touch-screen kiosk.

On Monday, DFW officially unveiled its new automated passport control system that allows U.S. and Canadian citizens a shortened customs process by having computer kiosks handle some of the work typically handled by U.S. Customs agents.

Thirty kiosks have been operational since late October and were used by more than 320,000 passengers, which is about 55 percent of the airport’s arriving passengers, in the first three months.

“The system has drawn great reviews from our customers and made the customer experience better,” said Ken Buchanan, the airport’s executive vice president of revenue management. “The APC system has allowed our customs partners to allocate more of their officers to the lines on the other side of the hall to handle foreign visitors, making those lines even shorter as well.”

Last summer, travelers were waiting up to three hours in long lines in DFW Airport’s customs hall. Passengers flooded social media with videos and photos of the lines that stretched down several hallways toward the arrival gates.

The airport has seen a 39 percent increase in international passengers since 2009, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency staffing has remained flat during that period.

DFW plans to add another 24 kiosks in the next few months. The airport developed the kiosk system in-house and plans to market and sell the system to other U.S. airports, Buchanan said. Vancouver, Chicago O’Hare and Miami airports also have automated passport control systems in operation, but those were developed by a different vendor.

Arlington resident Julissa Arce-Rivera returned from London with her husband Monday and used an automated kiosk for the first time. Arce-Rivera often travels internationally and said the longest she has waited in DFW’s customs hall is about 30 minutes.

“I think it’s cool,” Arce-Rivera said. “I think it’s going to help speed up the process.”

Although the kiosks can only be used by American and Canadian citizens, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency said it will eventually expand the program to citizens from countries that have visa waiver agreements with the United States, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea and Spain.

Judson Murdock, the customs agency’s director of field operations in Houston, said wait times at DFW Airport declined 15 percent in December, even as the number of passengers grew 9 percent compared to December 2012. The customs agency processed 3.2 million international travelers at DFW last year, he said.

“The simple steps reduce processing and wait times for travelers and at the same time support our security requirements, providing officers with the time to focus on the travelers,” Murdock said.

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