A Discouraging State of Affairs – what has happened to the Global Entry Kiosks?
I have previously written about the impressive Global Entry kiosks, more than 500 having been deployed by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These units, built by Kiosk Information Systems with software developed by the US Government, are installed at 43 US airports, seven Canadian airports and the following international airports: Abu Dhabi, Aruba, Dublin, Guam, Nassau, Saipan and Shannon. They allow passengers who have enrolled in the Global Entry program–an expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon their arrival in the United States—quick access through the Customs area through automatic kiosks. The program frees these passengers from filing out a paper Customs entry form; all required information is produced at the kiosks, theoretically a significant time-saving system.
At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt, complete with the passenger’s passport photo, and directs the traveler to a CBP agent and then on to baggage claim and the exit.
Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. Called the Trusted Traveler program, all applicants must undergo a rigorous background check, followed by an in-person interview before they are permitted to enroll. The cost is $100.00 for a five-year pass.
At least that the way they were supposed to work. Previously, when I accessed the kiosks at airports including Washington Dulles, LAX, Philadelphia and Miami, the system was a pleasure to use. Although there were some minor glitches (the software did not show passengers how to insert their passport to initiate the process) that required a few attempts to get it right, it was fast and easy to operate.
Dulles International Airport was one of the first airports to test the kiosks; it is the jumping-off point for dozens of international flights. Like highways, airports have rush hours.
At Dulles they are from 7:00-9:00 am (for California flights) and again from 3:00-6:00 for California flights as well as for the dozens of Europe-bound flights. When we arrived after a flight from Munich, it was 3:15pm and the International Arrivals Hall was packed. There are signs directing Global Entry passengers to a special line in order to use the kiosks.
This is a welcome diversion from the hoards of non-registered passengers who have to encounter extremely long lines to go through Customs, especially during that 3-6pm rush hour window.
We quickly saw that almost all of the 30+ kiosks were in use. When one became available, I went to use it. I then saw that the previous user had abandoned the session midway through; the error message on the screen revealed that fact.
There was no way to start over so I waited for another kiosk to become free. It became apparent that many of the kiosks had suddenly become available. (This was because so many of my fellow-passengers were experiencing the same performance issues as I was.) I tried a kiosk and followed the instructions to insert my passport to begin the session. The kiosk was unable to read my passport so I tried again. No luck.
At this point, I moved over to a second kiosk to start the process again. But again the software could not read my passport. On to a third kiosk. This time it appeared to read the passport page with the barcode. Quite a bit of time elapsed before I received a screen message saying that I was not a registered Global Entry user and therefore could not use the kiosk. This clearly was in error. (I had registered for Global Entry two years ago)
Growing more annoyed by the minute, I then moved on to a fourth kiosk. At long last, success! The passport was read and accessed the database where my Trusted Traveler information was stored. The system also recognized the flight on which I had just flown back to the U.S. At this point, the system asks the same questions that one encounters on the paper Customs form. These include: Are you carrying more than $10,000 in cash? Are you bringing fruits and vegetables into the country? One nice touch is that it allows you to select the “No” button if all of the answers to the questions are No. When the form is filed out, it appears on the screen with the user’s passport photo on top. If all of the information is correct, you touch the Print button and the paper customs declaration slides out of a slot in the kiosk.
I then took the form to a customs official who stamped and then retained it. I asked him if my experience with the many unreliable kiosks was normal or an aberration. He assured me that my frustrating experience was par for the course. Note: the majority of users who had experienced similar problems had given up and moved over to the long line to fill out a paper declaration and have the CBP official examine and stamp it.
Attempts to reach personnel at the US Customs and Border Patrol have so far proven unsuccessful. Without proper maintenance on these units, the future does not bode well.
The numbers of passengers who quickly gave up trying to use the kiosk and went directly to the regular customs line was disheartening. It’s a sad commentary on a once-impressive (and easy to use) kiosk deployment that had really provided Service to the Citizen.