US Travel chief blasts ongoing issues with border process

The chief executive of the US Travel Association has called on the country’s government to address ongoing issues with delays at customs and embrace technology to avoid the requirement for transiting passengers to claim and recheck their luggage.

Speaking at the IPW conference in Los Angeles, Geoff Freeman said the US was welcoming more than 67 million international visitors “despite doing a lot of things wrong”.

He also warned competitors including the Canada and UK were actively embracing technology and policies to capitalise on issues which could deter travellers with a view to “stealing” customers from the US.

Freeman said biometric technology could speed the entry process but also called for better planning to prevent inefficiencies, adding: “Too many visitors are waiting more than two hours to get into the United States after travelling many hours to get here. There is nothing more predictable then when planes are going to land.”

His comments came as US Travel warned that a proposed policy amendment being considered by Congress to restrict the use of facial recognition technology in the border process could add 120 million hours a year to customs screening times.

Referring to the proposed amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorisation bill, the association said the effective ban would slow both standard screening lanes and those for the TSA PreCheck programme which allows passengers to register their details in advance for a fee.

“The proposed amendment to FAA reauthorisation is dangerous, costly and threatens to create chaos at America’s airports,” said Freeman.

“Eliminating the use of biometrics such as facial scan will set America back by decades and only misinformed members of Congress are to blame.”

The proposed amendment by Democrat senator Jeff Merkley and Republican John Kennedy would restrict the use of facial recognition technology until the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) complies with a series of requirements which US Travel dubbed “unworkable”.

Freeman added: “This proposed legislation threatens to turn America’s airports into the equivalent of college bars where fake IDs rule the day.

“TSA, to its credit, is innovating with the latest security technology and members of Congress are threatening to stand in its way at the expense of the travel experience.”

Kevin McAleenan, former US acting secretary for homeland security and co-chair of the Commission on Seamless & Secure Travel, told an IPW press conference that existing technology was more effective at checking both people and baggage than human assessments.

And he insisted it was possible to deliver change with proper liaison and focus.

“I worked with Customs and Border Protection in a period when we reduced wait times 20% a year for four straight years while facilitating travel more expeditiously but you have to keep innovating in this space,” he said.

“It’s a complex problem which requires multiple stakeholders: governments, airports, air carriers, state department all to work together efficiently to make it happen. It’s challenging but we can make progress and present a better face to the world.”

Photo: Kyle Espeleta Photography

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