By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Charging that excessively long waits to go through customs at JFK Airport are hurting the region’s economy, US Senator Charles Schumer issued a personal appeal to the Department of Homeland Security to install new measures to alleviate problems for travelers.
“JFK is a gateway to America and it is a national embarrassment – and drag on the regional economy – that customs lines there are so infuriatingly long,” said Schumer.
In a personal call to Homeland Security Secretary Rand Beers, Schumer requested to have his agency immediately approve 40 new automated passport kiosk machines and assign additional technology and personnel that can be deployed to the customs areas when wait times are longest.
The automated kiosks have been tried out in airports like Chicago’s O’Hare and have reduced wait times by up to a third, according to Schumer.
At the kiosks, passengers would be able to 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 would then get a receipt and present it and their passport to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer to finalize the inspection.
Because most of the administrative work has been done at the kiosk, the stop at the CBP officer would take far less time, Schumer said.
The senator cited a recent report which revealed that customs at JFK Airport had the longest wait times in the country. The average delay during peak hours this past August was more than two hours.
JFK contributes approximately $30.6 billion in economic activity to the New York/New Jersey region, generating some 213,000 total jobs and about $11.3 billion in wages and salaries, according to the Port Authority. But the continued customs delays puts that economic impact in jeopardy, Schumer said.
“Fortunately, there are simple and affordable steps that the feds can take to speed things along, such as providing additional personnel and automated passport kiosks. The feds should take immediate measures to reduce lines and improve the traveling experience for tourists, business people, and all travelers entering New York through JFK. New York City is the world’s greatest city, and travelers shouldn’t have the world’s worst experience while getting here,” Schumer said.
Schumer said Beers is reviewing his request.