Automated Passport Control In Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport

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.

Passport and ESTA is what you need for the Automated Passport Control kiosks

Passport

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.

Symbol saying my passport is suitable for E-Passport Gates

Symbol saying my passport is suitable for E-Passport Gates

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.)

The chip inside my passport which allows me to use e-passport gates

The chip inside my passport

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?

 

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Comments

  1. says

    That’s nice to hear from my home airport! I actually haven’t flown international into Atlanta in a long time (I somehow always end up in Miami), but I can’t wait to try it out. I remember the last time I flew into Atlanta internationally, it took over an hour to go through immigration.

    • says

      Hi Hannah, over an hour was something I was very familiar with at Atlanta. I used to visit Atlanta often and now most of my flights to the US are with Delta since they seem to offer a good price and timings for where I want to go.

      Which airline do you use for Miami?

      • says

        American usually goes through Miami, all my travels the past 3 years have been to South America, and they always seem to be the cheapest! Delta has direct flights to SA too, but for some reason stopping in Miami saves hundreds for me.

        • says

          I can’t fault you on getting the best price. Different airlines seem to be stronger on price than others on certain routes.

          It is a while since I’ve flown American. Have you seen much change since the merger with US Airways (who I’m not keen on at all)?

  2. says

    Man, what a hassle it is to travel. Blame terrorism for screwing up the whole travel industry! At least it seems to be getting a bit better with this system.

    • says

      Very true Phil, those evil extremists have changed the way we travel forever. As horrible as it is at least we are a little bit safer now even if inconvenienced.

      And yes things are getting better with the system :-)

  3. says

    I’m glad to hear these things actually work for someone! With my old passport, they never worked, and after standing in line for an hour to show them it didn’t work I would inevitably get pushed to another long line (though this was Houston, not Atlanta). I’ll hope for the best next time!

    • says

      Pushed to another long line sounds very unsympathetic from the authorities. It’s as if we have nothing to do better with our time than just spend all day in queues and more queues.

      Does your passport have a chip inside like mine does? If not, is that why it didn’t work?

      • says

        It did not have a chip, but they claimed it was still to work in the machines (not sure I understand the technology for that…but…). I got a new passport as soon I got home and had a break in travel plans!

        • says

          I hope the new passport works better for you Heather. These machines are a big help for us flyers and I hope you can benefit from using them.

  4. says

    “Thankfully my luggage had arrived quickly and I found the new bottleneck, yes it was Customs. ” – there’s always something!!! This happens at Melbourne airport too when a couple of flights arrive at the same time.

    • says

      Ah yes Tim I know what you mean. I often find the “Express” lane at Customs in Melbourne is unmanned too. Such a shame since I often have the express pass to use.

  5. says

    Guy, We just experienced the same thing in Seatac. We made it through passport control in record time, so our entire time in the building was also greatly reduced. I loved it!

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