Passport scanning technology to help breeze through the Atlanta airport customs line is no longer reserved for travelers who have signed up for special government programs.
While skipping the line altogether is still only for U.S. citizens pre-approved under the Global Entry program, 74 automated passport control kiosks installed May 15 aim to ensure that the lines don’t get too long in the first place.
Americans, Canadians and international guests who have cleared their trips electronically with the U.S. can scan their passports at kiosks located between concourses E and F, the 40-gate combined complex that got a major boost in May 2012 with the opening of the airport’s 12-gate international terminal, or Concourse F.
Using a touchscreen, travelers will enter flight and biographical information and fill out a customs declaration. The kiosk will take their photo and spit out a receipt that will be taken to a customs officer for final clearance.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of 13 airports with the technology, which has slashed wait times by an average of 20-40 percent since the BorderXpress program was launched at Vancouver International Airport last May.
Two of Atlanta’s Southeast U.S. competitors, Charlotte and Miami, both have the kiosks at their airports.
For Atlanta officials, the kiosks represent an effort to improve customer service as the airport prepares to welcome more international passengers.
Overall passenger numbers at the world’s busiest airport declined slightly last year to 94.4 million from 95.5 million, but newly named general manager Miguel Southwell has plans to boost overall traffic and to attract new international carriers through an incentive program.
International passenger traffic increased 4.1 percent in 2013, a bright spot in the annual Airports Council International report that revealed Atlanta maintained its spot as the world’s busiest airport even as its growth stalled.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection processed 4.6 million international arrivals in Atlanta last year, a relatively small number considering the overall traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson.
Mr. Southwell has told Global Atlanta that improving international origin-and-destination traffic – the proportion of passengers who get beyond the airport walls instead of connecting – is key to his goal of maximizing the development impact of the airport.
From the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Thursday, President Obama said cutting wait times at airports was part of a broader strategy he launched in 2009 to welcome more international visitors. That plan also included enhancing visa processing in key markets like Brazil and China and hiring more border officers.
He singled out Chicago O’Hare and Dallas Fort Worth as airports where passport kiosks helped cut wait times to a mere 15 minutes. Shorter waits upon arrival mean travelers are more likely to return, he said, and that can mean a lot when the average international tourist spends $4,500.
“I want to turn the 70 million tourists that came last year into 100 million each year by the beginning of the next decade,” Mr. Obama said Thursday, according to a White House news item.
The administration plans to have passport kiosks installed in 25 airports by the end of 2014.