Automated passport kiosks expected to shorten wait times for LAX arrivals

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LOS ANGELES—International passengers arriving at the Tom Bradley International Terminal can now expect to see a shorter waiting period at the customs checkpoints at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

On Wednesday, Sept. 24, LAX officials, together with LA City Mayor Eric Garcetti, unveiled 40 Automated Passport Control Kiosks, which are expected to expedite the entry process for US and Canadian citizens, as well as travelers from 38 Visa Waiver Countries under the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program.

Currently, the Philippines is not under the CBP’s ESTA program.

As it stands today, airport officials estimate that a 300-passenger flight will normally be processed in around 45 minutes with multiple CBP booths open and without the APC kiosks. With the kiosks in place, eligible travelers will be waiting an average of 17.5 minutes less than usual.

Airport officials said that the program recently had a ‘soft launch’ on August 26, and already, passengers have experienced a reduction in their wait times prior to the face-to-face inspection with a CBP agent.

Mayor Garcetti himself said that he has used the kiosks before in Chicago, and professed that the machines indeed streamlined the customs inspection process.

“I’ve used these machines before. I came back from my trade mission to Mexico via Chicago. I saw first hand how convenient they are, how great they are, how next-century they are,” Garcetti said at the unveiling of the APCs in LA.

Garcetti called the machines an “important improvement” in LAX facilities, in line with ongoing renovations and upgrades happening at the airport.

According to Jacqueline Yaft, deputy director for operations and emergency management at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the airport authority expects that by year’s end, there will have been 70 million travelers to traverse via LAX, and 5 million of those will be international passengers who will be processed through the federal inspection facility, where the kiosks are located.

“It is important to us, to the airlines, and to our federal agency partners that we continue improving the experiences of travelers as they enter and depart the United States through LAX — without sacrificing security and public safety,” Yaft said during a press briefing.

How the kiosks work

The kiosks will allow travelers, including family groups, to electronically submit their customs declaration forms and biographic information. A passenger can select any of the 13 languages available, and the kiosk will guide the traveler through the process, which includes scanning the passport, taking a photograph, answering a few questions, and fingerprinting for non-US citizens. Travelers will receive a receipt that confirms their information, at which point they will proceed to a CBP officer who will conduct the in-person inspection to complete their entry into the US.

According to CBP’s LAX Area Port Director Todd Hoffman, the new system will not compromise any security measures already in place at the airport. The passengers still have to present their passports to the CPB agents, and the agents still have to verify the passport holder’s identities. Hoffman said that the APC kiosks will let the passengers conduct the administrative aspect of the entry process (i.e. submitting documents), and thereby allow the CBP officers to focus on the task at hand, which includes identity verification, admissibility inspection, and identifying the purpose of the travel.

“The kiosks essentially cuts the process in half,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said that the inspection process with a CBP officer takes about 90 seconds per person, without the APC. With the APC kiosks, a US citizen can be done in about 30 seconds or so.

A family of three can be finished within four minutes, airport officials said in a statement.

Hoffman later clarified that Legal Permanent Residents or Green Card holders are not yet eligible to use the APC kiosks in LAX for the time being. However, he said that it is still within the realm of possibility, considering that it is now being done in other cities.

“I don’t have a timetable, but I imagine that’s not in the too distant future. I believe they can use them in other airports,” Hoffman said.

The CBP area chief said that with the proper programming and manufacturing capabilities in place, it won’t be long before permanent residents arriving from international destinations can use the kiosks.

“I imagine that in the coming months, we’ll be able to process Legal Permanent Residents or Green Card holders through these kiosks,” Hoffman said to Asian Journal. 

(OCIE September 26 – October 2, 2014 Sec. A pg.1)

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