Kennedy Airport's busiest terminal is using computers to scan passports and photograph U.S. travelers to reduce their wait times when re-entering the country.
The new automated passport scanners trim 35 percent of the wait time and are expected to cut in half the traditional 20- to 40-minute waits, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Monday. The 40 scanners were installed in October and are only for U.S. citizens.
Travelers no longer have to fill out customs declaration forms on the plane before landing telling the agency their passport numbers, addresses and items they have to declare.
"This is cutting back my time by half," Ken Dubuque, 65, of Manhattan, said Monday on his return from Asia. "It was quick and easy to use."
U.S. citizens can walk up to the computer kiosk stations, which are similar to automated check-in kiosks that airlines offer to passengers who want to process their own boarding passes.
The passport scanner screen shows a visual on how to scan a passport. Travelers then follow the questions on the screen, which directs them to take a photograph of themselves. They receive a receipt that has their picture.
Terminal workers dressed in beige jackets are on hand to assist travelers and direct them to customs officers waiting to process their receipts and ask questions.
"This cuts down on the administrative steps the officers have to make," Kevin K. McAleenan, acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said at a news conference Monday at the airport.
He said the passport scanners give "the officers more time to focus on the travelers -- looking them in the eye and asking them questions about their travels."
Greg Wright, 46, of North Carolina, who returned from Japan Monday, said the new system "is great."
"It feels a lot quicker -- normally I am here for at least 30 minutes."
Maria Fisher, 45, of Manhattan, who returned from Genoa, Italy, Monday, said using the automated passport kiosk felt "very comfortable and easy to understand. It was very quick."
Other automated passport kiosks are being used in Chicago and Miami and will be installed in Houston, Orlando, Fla., and Dallas.