As international travel grows, so does the use of technology in the US. A look at how it is used at airports

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Belgian family of four was on their fourth trip to the United States. They were dreading the long line at passport control upon entering the country but heard about a new app they could use to ease their way and decided to give it a shot. Within minutes, they passed the long line at Washington Dulles International Airport and were waiting for their luggage.

“It was always a long streak,” said Piet De Staercke from the pass screening line. He, his wife and two sons were visiting Washington and Chicago. “We were a bit scared. .”

As travel continues to pick up after pandemic-related slumps, US Customs and Border Protection is expanding the use of technology like the Mobile Passport Control app used by the De Staercke family in an effort to limit the number of passengers traveling internationally is increasingly processed. And with events like a rare solar eclipse, the Paris Olympics, and summer vacations still driving international travel, those numbers don’t look like they’ll drop anytime soon.

Customs and Border Protection officials gave the Associated Press an insight into some of the technologies they are using and what to expect in the coming months and years.

The numbers

During fiscal year 2023, the agency processed over 394 million travelers at ports of entry. That’s a 24% increase on the previous year. Looking at the top 20 airports in the country by passenger volume, officials processed 31% more travelers and average wait times increased by 11%. And at some of the busiest airports, waiting times increased slightly or even decreased. At New York’s JFK Airport, for example, wait times decreased — by an average of 0.4 seconds — and CBP officers processed 33% more travelers.

More than ever, people are traveling internationally with their families rather than going abroad alone for business.


Officials are moving more toward app-based technologies to expedite the movement of passengers through the airport. The Mobile Passport Control app used by a Belgian family is one example. It is available to US citizens, but also to legal permanent residents, certain Canadians and travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries who have been to the US at least once.

Passengers upload their photos and information to the app. When they enter the screening area, they are sent to a separate line. The officer then only needs to take a photo of one member of the family and pull up the photos of the whole group and their information.

CBP launched the app in 2021 but is now trying to get more people to use it, including working with airlines to download the app while the plane is in flight and putting up signs at airports to direct travelers to the information about. Last year, a record 4.1 million people entered the country using the app.

“Any second we can save through the process, it saves time because it adds up in the end,” said Marc Calixte, chief CBP officer at Dulles.

Last September, the agency created an app specifically for passengers using Global Entry. That’s one of the “Trusted Traveler” programs run by CBP that allows certain low-risk passengers who make an appointment for an interview and submit to a background check to travel through customs and passport control more quickly when they arrive in the US.


Last year, a record 3.2 million people applied for the Global Entry program, and this year the agency is on track to process about 4 million applications, said Brendan Blackmer, CBP branch chief for Traveler Programs. Reliable. But passengers have complained about how long it takes to process applications and their struggle to get appointments. On its website, CBP says it takes an average of four to six months to process applications. In February, 17 members of Congress wrote to CBP demanding information, saying they were dealing with complaints from constituents about the wait times.

Blackmer said the agency is under pressure to improve the process, including by allowing nearly 100% of people renewing their status to do so without having to come into a registration center. This facilitates appointments for first-time applicants. And it’s pushing more people to be able to complete the process while at the airport, leaving or returning from a trip.

More appointments are also available, Blackmer said, although some cities like San Francisco are still seeing so much demand that it can take more than 90 days to get appointments.

“We have done a lot of work over the past year and a half, and the agencies are now in a better position and able to meet the demand for the program. And we’re going to keep working,” Blackmer said.

Fee Increases

After 1 October, the fees paid by people using some of the Trusted Traveler Programs will increase. The cost of NEXUS, a US-Canada program designed to facilitate travel between the two countries for pre-approved travelers, will go from $50 to $120. Global Entry will go from $100 to $120. SENTRI, for pre-approved travelers on the southern border with Mexico, will decrease from $122.50 to $120.

But the fees will now cover all children under the age of 18 regardless of which program you are in.

What has not changed is that the approval of the programs will still be good for five years.


Calixte said the airport may be opening so-called E-Gates by the end of the summer, where passengers using Global Entry can use the app, bypass an officer at a kiosk, and instead go to a gate where their photo is taken and match it. their passport, and, assuming no red flags arise, the gates open and they exit the customs and passport control area and are on their way.

Further, Blackmer said the agency is exploring a concept called smart queuing, in which the app assigns passengers to certain lines based on information they enter into the app, such as whether they have items to declare.

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