Reducing Airport Wait Times: Automated Customs Kiosks

Posted by Content Coordinator on Monday, April 6th, 2015


Automated Customs kiosks have dramatically reduced wait times for arriving international passengers at both JFK and Newark Liberty airports, the busiest international arrivals airports in the country, according to a new study today by the Global Gateway Alliance. [Full tables below]

The study, which compared data from 2013 to 2014, calculated average wait times, maximum wait times, and arriving passenger traffic for each international terminal at JFK and Newark Liberty airports.

Wait times at terminals with kiosks dropped dramatically year to year, by 22 percent (6 minutes), whereas terminals without the kiosks held steady, experiencing on average a 0.43 minute reduction, which amounts to a marginal 1.54 percent.

JFK Airport has the highest international passenger traffic of any airport in the U.S., welcoming roughly 13.4 million passengers from overseas flights a year. Newark Liberty welcomes 5.7 million, making for over 19 million between the two of them.

In 2013 this high level of traffic proved difficult to handle; New York area airports had the longest wait times in the country. JFK Terminal 4 suffered the worst, with passengers stuck waiting over 2 hours on average and over 5 hours during peak periods.

However, Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks, installed in Terminals 1, 4 and 5 at JFK and Terminal B at Newark over the past two years, have simplified the Customs process and in doing so, greatly reduced wait times.

Passengers using the kiosks swipe their passport, answer some brief questions, and receive a printout receipt, so by the time passengers reach the booth, all the Customs agent has to do is verify their identity. Not only is this more efficient, but it’s also safer, as it frees up the agents to focus on what matters – identifying suspicious behavior and keeping our airports safe.

“The bottom line is, the kiosks have worked to dramatically improve a situation that was hurting the New York and U.S. brand,” said Global Gateway Alliance Chairman and Founder Joe Sitt. “But the

Federal Government needs to step up and bring the technology and manpower necessary to every international terminal. New York is the leading international gateway to the nation, so it is essential that we create the right first and last impression for every single passenger.”

Wait Time Reductions at Specific Terminals & Airports

JFK’s Terminal 4, the busiest international terminal in the country with nearly 6 million arrivals a year, experienced the greatest reduction in wait times across the board, with average wait times dropping by 30 percent from 27 minutes to under 20 minutes. This improvement can in part be attributed to the installation of 40 automated kiosks to speed passengers through Customs.

Newark’s Terminal C had the second greatest improvement in wait times overall at 21 percent, amounting to nearly a 5 minute reduction, while Terminal 1, experienced a reduction of at 4.5 minutes a 14 percent drop from 2013. Both terminals have the kiosks.

Overall, JFK Airport passengers waited an average of 22 minutes in 2014 – 5.43 minutes fewer than the year previous when passengers were waiting for over 27 minutes. Average wait times were even lower at Newark, dropping to just under 20 minutes; roughly a minute shorter than in 2013.

On the other hand, Terminals 7 and 8 at JFK and Terminal B at Newark, which do not have the kiosks, experienced marginal changes in wait times, holding steady in most cases.

GGA Calls for Further Improvements

There is still more to be done to improve the Customs experience for passengers. As such, GGA is calling for the following:

1. Kiosks to All NY-NJ Terminals: Customs kiosks have brought efficiency and enhanced safety to the Customs process – and the proof is in the pudding. Wait times at terminals with the technology have dropped dramatically, while terminals without continue year-on-year with no change.

2. Federal Funding: So far, private terminal operators and airlines have funded the installation of the new Customs technology. As Customs is a Federal responsibility, DHS should pick up the cost of bringing the kiosks to the remaining international NY-NJ terminals.

3. Increased Manpower: Although kiosks have lightened the load for CBP agents, every passenger must still be screened by an officer before clearing Customs. So while kiosks are an important part of the solution; CBP must also concentrate on increasing manpower when and where it’s most needed.

4. Better Tracking Technology: The current CBP wait time data does not track passengers through to the entire international arrivals process, only the Customs line. GGA would like to see the adoption of new technologies, whereby individual passengers opt in to tracking from the time they exit the plane, via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi sensors. This provides real time information and a widely representative sample, useful for assessing the efficacy of our Customs process and identifying the weaknesses in it.

5. Elimination of Paper Forms: The line to submit Customs declaration forms are frequently long and snake through the baggage claim area, creating confusion and frustration. Fortunately, CBP has begun to take steps to eliminate all paper forms by 2016, which includes the declaration form. We urge CBP to advance this program, which will both expedite the Customs process and reduce reliance on an outdated method of data storage.


  • Average wait times at terminals with kiosks (T1, T4, TC) dropped by 5.86 minutes, or 22.12%.
  • Terminals without kiosks (T7, T8, TB) held steady, experiencing on average a 0.43 minute reduction, amounting to 1.54%.
  • At JFK, average wait times dropped by nearly 20%, or 5.43 minutes, while passenger traffic increased by 475,587 people.
  • Newark Liberty average wait times experienced a 6% reduction, amounting to 1.24 minutes less.
  • Terminal 4 at JFK experienced the greatest improvement in average wait times, which decreased by 8.65 minutes, or 31.52%, to 18.79 minutes.
  • Maximum wait times dropped by 5.63 minutes to 48.42 minutes at JFK, and by 2.58 minutes to 38.12 minutes at Newark.

Table 1: JFK All Terminals


Download full version (PDF): Customs Kiosks Dramatically Reduce Wait Times at JFK, Newark Airports

About the Global Gateway Alliance
The Global Gateway Alliance, a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, was established to address major challenges facing the metropolitan region’s airports and related infrastructure that, if left unaddressed, will serve as a major impediment to the long-term growth of New York City.

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