Help for International Air Travelers?

Homeland SecurityMemorial Day weekend marks the start of the peak summer travel season, when the highest volumes of international travelers arrive at U.S. international airports, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

CBP and airport and airline stakeholders have taken a variety of steps in recent years to help reduce wait times and move travelers efficiently through U.S. international airports.

So, as we near the busy summer travel season, how can these travel initiatives help speed people through international arrivals? Today’s WatchBlog explores.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspections

Flying internationally to the United States means undergoing inspection by CBP. Travelers arriving at U.S. international airports from a foreign airport must pass through the Federal Inspection Service area where CBP conducts immigration and customs inspections.

In there, travelers queue for inspection—some of which can be automated, if the technology is available and if the traveler is eligible. After that, travelers collect their checked baggage and pass through an exit control checkpoint. A CBP officer can refer a traveler to a more thorough secondary inspection at any point in the inspections process.

It’s this process that CBP and airport and airline stakeholders are working to streamline through various initiatives.

Table 1: Airport Travel and Tourism Facilitation Initiatives at the 31 Terminals in the 17 Busiest U.S. International Airports as of the End of Fiscal Year 2016(Excerpted from GAO-17-470)

What are the initiatives?

CBP and airport and airline stakeholders have launched a variety of travel and tourism initiatives to streamline the CBP inspections process, reduce wait times, and help travelers navigate the international arrivals process, including

  • Automated technologies, such as Global Entry and Automated Passport Control self-service kiosks, that help travelers complete some of the CBP inspection process before seeing a CBP officer.

Figure 37: Automated Passport Control (APC) Kiosks at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) Terminal 1(Excerpted from GAO-17-470)

  • Designated lanes for some types of travelers, such as diplomats and travelers without checked bags, to help speed these travelers through inspections.
  • Infrastructure modifications that can streamline CBP inspections and exit processes for travelers. For example, an initiative called “baggage first” allows travelers to collect their checked baggage before being inspected by a CBP officer. And “modified egress” streamlines the exit control checkpoint by allowing travelers to collect their baggage and leave the inspection area unless stopped by a CBP officer monitoring the area.

Figure 45: Before and After Implementation of Modified Egress at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport (FLL)(Excerpted from GAO-17-470) 

  • Better signs, including color-coded and electronic signs that help direct travelers and provide other useful information, such as what to expect in the inspections process.

Figure 6: Color-coded Signage at Miami International Airport (MIA) North Terminal and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)(Excerpted from GAO-17-470)

  • Professionalism and stakeholder initiatives that promote awareness of CBP’s mission, address traveler and stakeholder complaints, and help set goals for the airports.

Who develops and pays for these initiatives?

CBP and airport and airline stakeholders jointly implement travel and tourism facilitation initiatives at U.S. international airports.

In general, CBP develops the standards for these initiatives and determines which travelers can use them. Airport and airline stakeholders choose which initiatives to implement and pay for most of the initiatives and associated infrastructure and maintenance costs.

Do all U.S. international airports implement the same initiatives?

In short, no. We found that every international airport is different and the traveler experience varies somewhat at each airport. The differences are the result of the size and layout of the CBP inspections area, the infrastructure needed to support initiatives, the willingness and ability of airport and airline stakeholders to pay for initiatives, stakeholder decisions about how to best implement initiatives, and CBP staffing level.

To learn more, check out our full report.


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