Automated Passport Control is now in place at the Atlanta International Airport. This newly introduced measure is helping to relieve a major bottleneck and is available to more than just US citizens.
I discovered this news by good fortune only recently as I was due to get a connecting flight in Atlanta after arriving on a flight from England.
My inbound flight was delayed, due to “huge storms” the day before in Atlanta which delayed the incoming flight of the plane I was to board. On initially checking in at Manchester Airport I was advised that my flight would be 2 and a half hours later. This meant I had a change over time in Atlanta of around 1 hour 15-30 minutes.
Previous experience of Passport Control in Atlanta
I knew this was incredibly tight since the last time I went through the queue at American Passport Control in Atlanta it took over an hour to have my passport stamped. As a result the check-in agent advised me of a later connecting flight I could take.
Touching down at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport was encouraging, we seemed to have made up some time. However we then spent close to 20 minutes taxiing to the gate, always a frustration.
With one hour and twenty minutes before my connecting flight took off it was a big rush to get to the Airport Passport Control before the big queues.
First sight of Automated Passport Control Kiosks
As I arrived I first saw the signs for US Citizens. The queuing lines seemed fairly short however there were also lots of new tall blue machines (automated immigration kiosks) towards the front of the queues which people were using.
I then moved towards the sign labelled “Foreigners” which is where I normally belong.
There was a queue here. Not as long as I’ve seen in the past but a reasonable length to leave me worried. Then all of a sudden I was stopped by an Immigration agent.
A foreigner can use the Automated Passport Control
He asked if I had an ESTA, why yes of course I do. He then asked if I’d been in to the US before on this ESTA? As you know I most certainly have.
Then much to my delight he advised me that with my ESTA I could go to the US Citizens line and use these new passport kiosk machines!
I was delighted and rushed across.
These automated passport control kiosk machines seemed a bit like the E-Passport kiosks in place in the UK over the last few years. The E-Passport machines are great and I use them whenever I can. If you have a chipped UK passport you can use them by scanning your passport then letting the machine take a picture of you. (Also worth noting is that you can now use your UK E-Passport to go through Immigration at Melbourne Airport in Australia.)
These Automated Passport Control Machines were a little bit more complex than the E-Passport Machines. Firstly you scan your passport and confirm the reading is correct. Then you let the machine take a picture of yourself followed by scans of your fingerprints.
The next step with the Immigration Kiosks was that it asked me to answer the various Customs questions I’d previously completed on a paper form.
The Automated Passport Control Machine then printed out a sheet of paper for me with a black and white picture of myself.
Queuing for Immigration in Atlanta Hartsfield Airport
Then a weird thing happened. I had to queue up at Passport Control. Admittedly this queue was a lot shorter than they’ve been in years gone by but the process was similar.
Once my turn came I handed over my passport and this piece of paper to the Passport Control agent.
He advised me that the new automated passport control system was only put in place a couple of weeks earlier but were making a difference.
He then proceeded to behave as Immigration Passport Control agents did before the kiosk machines were introduced. He asked for the purpose of my trip, how long I’d be staying and how much money I had with me.
Then rather bizarrely he took a picture of me and scans of my fingerprints. Didn’t the new passport control machines just do this?
On a positive side he did advise that this printout from the new Automated Passport Control machines can be used at US Customs.
Passport stamped and I was away.
The new bottleneck
Thankfully my luggage had arrived quickly and I found the new bottleneck, yes it was Customs. There was a long queue here and we had to hand in our paper and be subject to questioning from the agent if they so chose.
On a positive note I did then manage to get through airport security, re-check my bag and get to my gate on time! I made my connection!
Whilst I can’t quite see the need for repeating the process of having your picture and fingerprints taken I do like these new Automated Passport Control Machines in Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. The horrendous bottleneck of Passport Control in Atlanta may be resolved? Could 2 hours change over time from an international to a domestic flight finally be a realistic goal?