San Diego International Airport hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of its new 130,000-square-foot International Arrivals facility in Terminal 2 that is five times the size of the previous facility and increases the number of international gates from three to six.
The new facility was needed: the airport has experienced significant growth in international arrivals in the past quarter-century, from about 50,000 passengers a year in the early 1990s to more than 400,000 a year in 2017.
“As airlines look to add to their international networks, it is vital we have adequate facilities readily available to compete and attract new air service,” said Kimberly Becker, Airport Authority President/CEO, “With twice the number of international gates, the latest technologies, and an expanded baggage claim and passenger wait area, this new facility ensures we are equipped to provide a world-class experience for international passengers arriving into San Diego.”
The new facility improves the processing experience for passengers by offering reduced wait times, a more welcoming environment and the newest technologies from U.S. Customs and Border Protection: SAN now becomes one of the first airports to implement 100 percent biometric or facial recognition technology for arriving international flights.
The facility also features two public artworks. Paths Woven, by artist Aaron T. Stephan, is a suspended artwork in the public waiting area that consists of 25 ladders representing the many individual journeys that converge at an airport.
In baggage claim visitors will see Carry On by artist Walter Hood, made up of 52 glass panels featuring more than 600 photos of unique, symbolic items contributed by members of the San Diego community and airport staff.
The airports in Vancouver and Toronto have them. And so do airports in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Montreal and Miami. JFK in New York has them.
Now Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks as well.
With these self-service machines, eligible U.S. and Canadian citizens should experience shorter wait times, less congestion and faster processing when returning from an international trip.
Here’s how they work:
“Instead of filling out a declaration card and taking their travel documents to a CBP officer, passengers who are eligible and choose to use Automated Passport Control can proceed directly to a self-service kiosk in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection passport-control area. Travelers will follow the on-screen instructions to scan their U.S. or Canadian passport, answer the customs declaration questions using the touch screen, receive a receipt confirming their information and proceed to the CBP officer to finalize processing. The kiosk allows up to four people residing at the same address to be processed together.”
At Sea-Tac, which now has 14 of APC machines, the entry process for eligible U.S. and Canadian citizens should be cut in half.
On Monday, arriving U.S. passengers from international flights at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 began using automated passport machines to speed their trip through customs.
Similar self-service machines already in use at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Terminal 5, and at two airports in Canada (Vancouver and Montreal) are already helping to significantly cut down wait times at customs that, at times, have forced arriving international passengers to stand in line for up to five hours or to be held back on a plane.
JFK is the busiest U.S. entry point for international travelers, and 40 automated passport kiosks have been purchased by Delta for use in Terminal 4, where it is the largest tenant among more than 30 airlines. At JFK, only U.S. citizens will initially be able to use the machines, but soon Canadian citizens should be able to use the machines as well.
Delta would like the Custom and Border Protection agency to increase staffing and improve scheduling to accommodate peak arrival times. “But we don’t know how long that will take,” said Delta spokeswoman Leslie Scott. “This is something proactive we can do now as an investment in the customer experience. Because if a passenger has enjoyed the in-flight meals, the lie-flat bed and other aspects of an international flight having to stand on line for hours on arrival really ruins the experience.”
Courtesy Chicago O’Hare International Airport
According to the Chicago Department of Aviation, since July 1, when the automated passport control technology was rolled out at O’Hare Airport’s Terminal 5, daily passenger volume has increased by 21 percent, to over 15,000, but wait times during peak arrival periods have been reduced by 33 percent.
The number of passengers waiting over 60 minutes per day at O’Hare has been reduced by nearly 60 percent, and the number of passengers waiting for over two hours has been eliminated almost entirely. The number of passengers missing their connecting flights has been drastically reduced as well.
At O’Hare, only U.S. citizens could initially use the kiosks, but this month the program was expanded to include Canadian citizens as well.
(O’Hare also has another program in place that gets people through customs quicker: in International Terminal 5 a program called “1-Stop” is available to arriving passengers with proper documentation and only carry-on luggage.)
Several vendors, including the Vancouver Airport Authority, IBM and SITA, make and market the technology and the hardware, which will be rolled out at several other airports in North America in the next few months.
Machines made by SITA at Orlando International “are deployed but not yet in use,” said SITA’s Sean Farrell. “We’re just waiting for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to certify the system, but right now that agency is on furlough.”
Toronto Pearson plans to launch its automated passport control kiosks, being built by IBM, in mid-November.
Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport has 20 kiosks that should be operational by the end of the year.
On its own, Dallas/Fort Worth International is developing and building 30 automated passport reading kiosks that should be up and running by early November.
And 36 automated passport machines, purchased at a cost of $3.5 million by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, will be installed in November at Miami International.
“It’s pretty well documented that we’ve had challenges in our international arrivals area,” said Miami’s airport spokesman Greg Chin. “Our peak waiting times have been as much as two to three hours, and this is one of the ways we’re trying to mitigate the challenges.”
Visitor makeup is 70 percent U.S. citizens at O’Hare versus 70 percent non-U.S. visitors at MIA, said Chin, “And because U.S. citizens are easier to process, we don’t think our reduction will match [O’Hare’s] 30 percent but we hope to at least approach that.”
(A slightly different version of this story first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior. This is an updated version.)