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Do the newest automated kiosks at Orlando International Airport really reduce wait times for arriving international visitors? The jury is still out.

Trying to balance convenience and security at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints has long been a struggle for airports, but with SITA’s new automated passport control (APC) kiosks, shorter lines could be in sight.

But, the findings are mixed regarding the impact of the SITA kiosks at Orlando Internatonal Airport.

Orlando International Airport became the first U.S. airport to implement Phase III kiosks earlier this year, which cut the wait times down to 30 to 35 minutes for international visitors from 38 countries as part of the visa waiver program, according to a SITA white paper.

The kiosks speed the flow of visitors through the checkpoints in a three-step process of passport verification; biometric assessment, including fingerprints and facial photos, and customs declarations. Data from Orlando’s kiosks show it takes 90 seconds on average for each traveler to complete these three steps.

But it’s unclear if wait times have actually been reduced since the kiosks arrived.

The majority of average wait times in January 2014, the month before the kiosks arrived, were lower than SITA’s claims of 30 to 35 minutes following the kiosks’ installation based on CBP data that tracked average wait times throughout each day that month.

For July, the results are mixed, with many wait times at or exceeding SITA’s averages, although the data covers SITA’s kiosks and other customs lines.

Miami International Airport introduced Phase II kiosks last year for U.S. and Canadian citizens, but the focus of these kiosks is making good impressions with international visitors.

Some 69.6 million international tourists visited the U.S. in 2013, and that number is expected to exceed 80 million by 2016.

Installing these kiosks or similar services seems crucial to preventing negative experiences that leave visitors unhappy. International travelers bring in more than $960 million to the Orlando economy each year.

The next step is Phase IV, which would open the kiosks to travelers of any nationality. It’s a strategic move to quickly process visitors from countries such as China, Brazil, Russia and India who provide the bulk of American tourism dollars, according to SITA.

This phase could be working at some airports as early as this summer.

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Tags: customs, orlando, sita

Photo credit: SITA says automated passport control kiosks at Orlando International Airport have cut wait times at customs, but other data suggests otherwise. Pictured are automated passport control kiosks at Chicago O'Hare Airport in 2013. Kristoffer Grogan / U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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