Arrival at their destination airport is, effectively, the first impression travellers have of a country. So an efficient border control process is an essential element in achieving a warm welcome. Self-service border solutions have the potential to enhance that customer experience, as Paul Mewett, Director of Innovative Travel Solutions at Vancouver Airport Authority, explained to Ross Falconer.
Reducing waiting times is a fundamental element of improving the airport experience and recent technological developments are enabling significant improvements to be made on this front, particularly at the customs and immigration checkpoint.
This is typified by the rollout of Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks. Vancouver Airport Authority takes an entrepreneurial approach to innovation, exporting its expertise and systems to other airports across North America and around the world. This includes its BorderXpress APC solution, which is currently in use at 22 airports across Canada, the US and the Caribbean, serving more than 25 million travellers at over 600 kiosks. In the latest development, 40 BorderXpress APC kiosks were sold to the City and County of San Francisco for use at San Francisco International Airport – they went fully operational in March.
The headline figures are certainly impressive. Paul Mewett, Director of Innovative Travel Solutions at Vancouver Airport Authority, is one of the original architects of the technology and solution. He explained that BorderXpress kiosks help speed up the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) process by up to 50%. “By automating part of the border clearance process, BorderXpress helps US CBP officers process up to four times more passengers than with traditional clearance,” he said. “With this increased efficiency, international travellers arriving at SFO will experience shorter wait times, less congestion and faster customs processing times.”
The streamlined process means travellers follow simple on-screen instructions to scan their travel document, answer customs declaration questions using the touch screen, take a photo, receive a receipt confirming their information and proceed to the officer for a final review. Eligible passengers include US and Canadian passport holders and US Permanent Residents. The kiosks can also be used by international travellers with Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval from 38 countries not requiring US entry visas, including Australia, Japan, Germany and the UK. The service is available without pre-registration or user fees.
“We’ve received an exceptional response from travellers, the airports, and the government agencies involved in the process,” Mewett commented. “It’s become a natural progression to use it, and has been quickly adopted by travellers.”
The next natural progression is to export the technology globally. “North America has fully embraced the technology and is yielding the benefits. We’re both being proactive and reactive – a number of countries have approached us, having seen the success of this,” Mewett stated. “Europe is definitely one our key focus areas and we’re having some very fruitful discussions with a number of countries and governments. We see a very good opportunity there.”
Importantly, the technology is appropriate to airports of all sizes. Atlanta has 74 kiosks, while Reno has two. Each facility receives the same benefits.
While many of the benefits associated with these developments have been felt at North American airports, there are plans to export the technology to airports globally, including Europe. We will have to wait and see where the next APC-style solution appears, but one thing that seems certain is that even more passengers stand to benefit from increased investment in innovative solutions to improve efficiency at the customs and immigration checkpoint.