Sick of Waiting in Line? Passport Control at JFK Goes Automated

by  Alex Schechter | Oct 10, 2013
Passport / goodmoments/iStock

Fact: at the end of a long international flight, the last thing any traveler wants to do is wait at the end of a stagnant, snaking line just to get his or her passport stamped.

JFK, the largest entry point for international passengers in the US, happens to be one of the worst offenders when it comes to making people wait to get through passport control after landing. According to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection study earlier this summer, the average peak wait time was 93 minutes, making it the longest customs wait in the country.

So it was probably more out of frustration than goodwill that Delta made the recent decision to foot the bill for a new system of automated passport kiosks at JFK. According to Business Week, the kiosks "scan passport information so customs officers don't have to," in addition to asking passengers the same questions they fill out on paper declaration cards.

Set to launch later this year, the kiosks will reportedly allow passengers to clear customs almost twice as fast.

With the introduction of two other automated systems, Global Entry and Pre-Check, we've seen greater focus on helping passengers move through the airport in a more timely, efficient manner. The one thing that sets this new service apart, however? Unlike those other government programs, it's free. Here's a look at the paid and free programs, and how they work...

Global Entry

Introduced in stages throughout the late 2000s, this service allows travelers of U.S., Dutch, South Korean, German, Mexican, Canadian, and Indian citizenship to to bypass customs wait lines after deplaning, through Global Entry kiosks installed at participating airports. In addition to submitting a formal application, which includes an interview and background check, users pay $100 for every 5 years of membership.

TSA Pre-Check

Available to members of Global Entry, this service (which costs another $85 to apply, on top of the $100 5-year Global Entry membership fee) expedites travelers through separate security lines before boarding the plane. Useful for folks who like spending as little time at the airport as possible before take-off, though only worth the money if you travel more than several times a month.

Automated Passport Kiosks

This new JFK service, which is already available at O'Hare, is free for any U.S. citizen arriving on an international flight. Though it's not considered an "express lane" or expedited service, the automated equipment is designed to scan a travelers' passport information in half the time, and allow things to move along more quickly in general. After JFK (which will launch the new kiosks later this year), Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Orlando, and Toronto Pearson International will also start use the new passport kiosks.

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