The Houston Chronicle (paywall) reports that the Houston City Council will discuss a measure tomorrow aimed at decreasing the amount of time spent in customs at Bush airport. Specifically, the airport (which is indirectly run by the City) is asking to install “automated passport-control kiosks” in the custom lines.
As the Chronicle article notes, the machines “allows travelers to scan their own passports, complete paperwork and confirm their travel information.” Thereafter, the traveler would still be forced to communicate/converse with a customs agent, mostly to double check and confirm everything. According to both the Chronicle article and similar studies, these use of these machines significantly reduces waiting times. This is because simple-though-time-consuming tasks take up the time of many of the limited number of customs officers. One caveat of the program is that it is limited to US Citizens.
With only the absolute necessities being performed by the limited staff, the lines run quicker. The Chronicle article notes that lines could be cut with “30 to 40 percent.” The kiosks were recently introduced at New York’s JFK Airport, where waiting times were slashed by 50 percent. Similarly, waiting time at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport are down over 30 percent after the kiosk’s introduction.
As someone who has only flown overseas once, I can’t imagine this is really going to affect me –or most people– all that much. I suppose that this development will actually be most beneficial to those living outside of Houston. That is because the saved time can help with making connecting flights. If one is, for example, an Austinite trying to fly to Europe, one would have to switch planes somewhere and Houston is the closest option.
I could foresee some of the City Council’s –errg, more outlandish– members (Brown or Burks) making an odd point of opposing this because of unfounded fears that it will diminish security. We will see what happens tomorrow morning.