High-tech passport kiosks bring speed to McCarran’s international terminal

Since the day the doors opened at McCarran International Airport’s Terminal 3 in 2012, Las Vegas has been a hot commodity for travelers flying here from other countries.

With international arrivals continuing to boom, airport officials on Tuesday unveiled some wow technology matching the enthusiasm of those tourists.

Automated passport control kiosks, or APCs as they’re known in the acronym-obsessed aviation industry, were shown off at the U.S. Customs Arrivals Hall at Terminal 3.

“We believe they’re going to boost travel and tourism because they make things so much easier for international arrivals,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County’s aviation director.

The six kiosks costing about $50,000 apiece are positioned in front of a brightly colored mural depicting classic Las Vegas showgirls, giving arriving passengers an immediate introduction to the environment they’ll experience when they clear the U.S. Customs and Border Control facility.

The kiosks are easy to use. Citizens or nationals from the United States, Canada, Mexico and 38 countries participating in a visa waiver program with the United States are eligible to use them.

To start the process, a traveler selects a language from among about a dozen that are programmed into the kiosk. The kiosk asks passengers the same questions they’d be asked at the Customs and Border Control checkpoint or on paperwork distributed to passengers on international flights into the United States.

Passengers answer by touching “yes” or “no” on the screen.

Then, the passenger is directed to place his or her passport face down onto a scanner. The scanner captures the image on the passport and several relevant pieces of information.

The kiosk then performs verification by elevating its camera to the traveler’s face level and taking a picture. The camera can periscope up to the height of the tallest basketball player to capture an image.

After the photo is taken, a paper receipt is produced for the passenger to take to the checkpoint for final clearance.

The process saves several minutes in the clearance procedure. Multiply that by the thousands of travelers who make their way through McCarran every day and it’s easy to see how the system is a big time-saver.

In 2014, 855,901 passengers came through McCarran’s international port, with 46.5 percent arriving from countries participating in the visa waiver program.

About 38 percent of the traffic came from the United Kingdom on British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook Airlines, 4.5 percent from South Korea on Korean Air and 4 percent from Germany on Condor Air.

Vassiliadis noted that international passenger counts continue to grow with McCarran being the fastest-growing international port among U.S. airports over the past two years.

McCarran and Customs and Border Protection worked together to bring the technology to the airport with an assist from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske of U.S. Customs and Border Protection was on hand for the unveiling and noted that while the kiosks will offer convenience for travelers, they also enhance the ability of the agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, to welcome tourists while keeping bad guys out.

He said that while the number of foreign travelers is growing, the average wait time for them through Customs is shrinking, thanks in part to the technology. Kerlikowske said there now are 34 U.S. airports that have APCs with 900 kiosk units in operation.

Kerlikowske said in addition to observing the APC unveiling, he visited with Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo to establish local rapport for when his agency works side by side with local law enforcement.

Also attending the kiosk kickoff was Todd Owen, of Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations; Anne Maricich, acting director of field operations for the Los Angeles field office; and David Chambers, vice president of North American sales for SITA, a Geneva, Switzerland-based multinational technology company with American headquarters in Atlanta, which developed the APC kiosks.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter: @RickVelotta.

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