As international travel grows, so does America’s use of technology. A look at how it’s used in airports

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Belgian family of four was on their fourth trip to the United States. They were afraid of the long line at passport control when they entered the country, but had heard about a new app they could use to get around and decided to give it a try. Within minutes, they had passed the long line at Washington Dulles International Airport and were waiting for their luggage.

“It was always a long line,” says Piet De Staercke of the line to go through passport control. He was visiting Washington and Chicago with his wife and two sons. “We were a little scared. But now with the app it’s great.”

As travel continues to grow following the pandemic-related slumps, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is expanding the use of technology like the Mobile Passport Control app that the De Staercke family used in an effort to handle the ever-growing number of internationally traveling passengers. And with events like a rare solar eclipse, the Paris Olympics and summer vacations still driving international travel, these numbers don’t seem likely to drop anytime soon.

Customs and Border Protection officials gave The Associated Press an inside look at some of the technologies they’ve used and what to expect in the coming months and years.


During fiscal year 2023, the agency processed more than 394 million travelers at ports of entry. That is an increase of 24% compared to the previous year. Looking at the nation’s 20 largest airports by passenger volume, agents handled 31% more travelers, while average wait times increased 11%. And at some of the busiest airports, wait times have increased negligibly or even decreased. At New York’s JFK Airport, for example, wait times fell – by an average of 0.4 seconds – while CBP agents processed 33% more travelers.

More and more people are traveling internationally with their families instead of going abroad alone on business.


Officials are moving more toward app-based technologies to speed the movement of passengers through the airport. The Belgian family’s Mobile Passport Control app is an example of this. It is available to US citizens, as well as lawful 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 will be directed to a separate line. The officer then only needs to take a photo of one member of the family and retrieve the photos of the entire group and their information.

CBP launched the app in 2021, but is now trying to get more people to use it, including by working with airlines to allow the app to be downloaded while the plane is in flight and by posting signage at airports to remind travelers to be informed. Last year, a record number of 4.1 million people entered the country via the app.

“Every second we can save during the process saves time because it adds up in the end,” said Marc Calixte, the top CBP official at Dulles.

Last September, the agency also created an app specifically for passengers using Global Entry. That’s one of CBP’s “Trusted Traveler” programs that allows certain low-risk passengers who schedule an interview and submit to a background check to expedite customs and passport control when they arrive in the U.S.


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, chief of CBP’s Office of Entry. Trusted Traveler Programs. But passengers have complained about how long it can take for applications to be processed and their difficulty in getting appointments. On its website, the CBP says that it takes an average of four to six months to process applications. In February, 17 members of Congress wrote a letter to CBP demanding information, saying they had fielded complaints from voters about the wait times.

Blackmer said the agency has pushed to improve the process, including allowing nearly 100% of people who renew their status to do so without having to come to an enrollment center. This frees up appointments for new applicants. And it urges more people to be able to complete the process while at the airport, whether departing or returning from travel.

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

“We have done a lot of work over the past year and a half, and the agency is now in a better position to meet the demand for the program. And we will continue to work,” Blackmer said.


From October 1, people using some of the Trusted Traveler programs will see an increase in the fees they pay. The cost of NEXUS, a US-Canadian program designed to simplify 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 at the southern border with Mexico, will drop from $122.50 to $120.

But the cost now covers all children under the age of 18, regardless of which program you participate in.

What remains unchanged is that the approval for the programs is valid for another five years.


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

Speaking further, Blackmer said the agency is exploring a concept called smart queuing, where the app assigns passengers to certain lines depending on the information they entered into the app, such as whether they need to declare goods.

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