Transport Airports

Houston Wants to Solve Customs Problems by Paying Workers Overtime

Dec 04, 2013 10:00 am

Skift Take

Is Houston really considering ways to put international visitors first? And pay some airport workers a decent wage? While it may pain us to say this: Why can’t other cities follow Houston’s lead?

— Jason Clampet

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Airport officials hope a program under consideration by Houston City Council would cut down on international travelers’ wait times.

On the council’s agenda Wednesday is a five-year agreement that would provide overtime for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at Bush Intercontinental Airport. The measure would provide overtime flexibility and would cost $1 million over the next 12 to 18 months. After that, council would be asked to provide additional funding.

The proposed Customs/Houston Airport System partnership calls for the city airports to reimburse the federal government the anticipated multimillion-dollar cost of overtime so that more officers are available to process arriving passengers during peak travel times.

Currently Houston’s only international airport, Bush was one of five airports, including four in Texas, chosen to move forward with the pilot program earlier this year.

Across-the-board federal budget cuts forced Customs to end staff overtime. As a result, barely 60 percent of arriving passengers clear Customs within 30 minutes of arrival in Houston, compared with more than 70 percent of passengers before, officials have said.

Government statistics show wait times at Bush Intercontinental in July reached a maximum of 97 minutes.

In a document submitted to city council, the airport system said offering “efficient and effective air services worldwide” should be considered “critical to the success of our city and region.”

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