A technology upgrade credited with sharply reducing the time it takes to pass through U.S. Customs at O’Hare Airport is expanding to Midway.
Instead of waiting on long lines to pass through customs, arriving passengers go directly to self-serve kiosks without filling out a customs declaration form.
There, they scan their passports, take a photograph, fill out the customs declaration electronically and answer a series of questions verifying their personal and flight information.
Travelers then get a receipt and present it and their passport to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer to finalize the inspection. It’s a relative breeze because the heavy lifting was done at the kiosk.
Since July, when “Automated Passport Control” made its U.S. debut at O’Hare, average waiting times to pass through customs have been reduced by 27.5 percent, compared with the same period a year ago. That’s even though there were 100,000 more international passengers, according to City Hall.
The maximum waiting time is down 15 percent.
The BorderXpress kiosks showcased at Midway Wednesday also have a 20 percent smaller footprint, reducing capital costs.
Midway served 20 million passengers last year. Only 270,000 of them passed through customs—booked on three carriers serving eight international destinations–but the figure is growing. It was up by 40 percent over 2012.
At a time when Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promoting Chicago as a destination for international tourists, Automated Passport Control has the potential to dramatically improve their first impression of the city.
“This technology reinforces Chicago’s leading position as a world-class destination for business and leisure travelers and builds upon continued efforts to make O’Hare the most convenient global gateway in the world,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.
“Having two of the first airports in the U.S. to implement this new technology demonstrates how serious we are about making Chicago the first, best and most welcoming city in the country.”
Last summer, Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino noted that O’Hare was the first U.S. airport to test the new program she saw while attending an airport conference in Vancouver, Canada.
She argued that the airport experience is critical if Chicago is to reach Emanuel’s newly revised goal of attracting 55 million annual visitors by 2020.
“People will make other choices if wait times are too long,” Andolino told the Chicago Sun-Times in July.
“At gateway airports throughout the country this summer, there have been two- and three-hour wait times [with federal budget cuts known as sequestration taking effect]. Here, we’ve reduced the number of passengers waiting over an hour by 58 percent and the number waiting over 120 minutes by 98 percent.”
At Midway, Southwest Airlines operates 27 international flights a week to three destinations: Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Volaris Airlines has 17 flights to four Mexican cities: Guadalajara, Morelia, Del Bajio and Zacatecas. Porter Airlines operates 32 weekly flights, all of them to Toronto, Canada.