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Using mobile apps to speed the customs process at the airport is a logical step. Anything that can speed the customs process while maintaining security has got to be a good thing.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection let travelers use its new mobile passport control app for the first time Wednesday at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, provided they were American or Canadian.

Atlanta is the only airport piloting the app, which allows travelers to forgo the traditional customs declarations paper forms. The airport approached the CBP to pilot the app through the Airports Council International-North America, says Jennifer Evanitsky, a CBP spokeswoman.

Airside Mobile and ACI-NA created the app, and it’s the latest technology introduced to cut costs and reduce wait times at customs.

Released Monday in the iTunes App Store, the app requires travelers to create a profile based on their passport information, and then complete the “New Trip” section where they answer customs declarations questions. After completing this section, travelers get a receipt that’s valid for four hours that they show to a CBP officer to clear customs.

App users still have to show their receipt and passsport to a CBP officer, but use a separate line, and families with four members or fewer can be processed together through the app.

CBP encourages travelers to wait until they’ve landed to use the app, though Evanitsky says travelers with in-flight Wi-Fi access can use it before landing to further expedite the process. But forms can’t be submitted via the app more than two hours prior to landing.

Only Americans and Canadians are eligible, and there’s no expected date for when other nationalities will gain eligibility as it’s still under consideration, Evanitsky says.

“It is due to the collecting of biometrics,” she says. “On our kiosks, for example, travelers’ fingerprints are captured.”

Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks are now at 22 U.S. airports after being piloted last year. The APC kiosks’ eligibility process began similarly, first with Americans and Canadians, then with the 38 visa-waiver countries.  And the CBP is working on opening the kiosks to all nationalities later this year.

The kiosks are meant to streamline the customs declarations process for international visitors.

At least one more airport will start using the app before year’s end, and Android users can expect their version of the app this fall, according to the CBP website.

“Airside Mobile felt that there was a sufficient number of travelers with iOS devices to sustain the pilot, especially considering the demographics of international travel and the documented rates of travel-app engagement for iOS,” Evanitsky says.

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Tags: atlanta, CBP, customs, passports

Photo credit: CBP's new mobile passport control app lets Americans and Canadians make customs declarations and bypass long lines at the airport. CBP

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