While Automated Immigration Services’ Popularity Soars, Baggage Solutions Must Keep Pace


It’s no surprise that automated immigration programs, which help reduce delays while maintaining security, are having a big impact on passengers and airports alike. Programs like U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry, which recently reached its five million membership milestone, as well as Automated Passport Control (APC) are growing in popularity.

The CBP’s Global Entry Program helps alleviate long lines at immigration and provides expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. The APC program expedites the entry process for U.S., Canadian, and eligible Visa Waiver Program international travelers.

“APC allows travelers to use self-service kiosks to speed the immigration process,” explains Tony Chapman, an industry expert on airport systems at Rockwell Collins. “For airports, driving the pre-clearance process to other countries eliminates immigration queues on arrival to the U.S., as passengers have gone through the process before landing.”

Travelers are able to bypass traditional CBP inspection lines and use an automated kiosk to complete their admission to the United States. In most of these cases, travelers check their baggage and pick it up at their first entry into the U.S., regardless of their transit country, without requiring the passenger to re-check their luggage in transit.

As the immigration process evolves, one key area that cannot be overlooked when moving to automated immigration systems is airport baggage processing systems. “While automated immigration programs provide benefits like avoiding long lines at U.S. CBP, it doesn’t alleviate the security burden of baggage operations at airports,” said Alex Peirce of Brock Solutions.

At U.S. CBP pre-clearance sites, baggage operations and automation must still meet current security and IATA standards, as well as the needs of U.S. CBP. This means that at any point throughout the baggage process, U.S. CBP needs the ability to remotely track and inspect baggage, and if needed, recall it for visual inspection as well.

There are several solutions that can help. Brock Solutions, for example, offers SmartClear for U.S. CBP. It’s a Baggage Image and Weight Identification System (BIWIS) that uses technology at the check-in counter, in the bag room, and in the customs hall that allows U.S. CBP officers to view information about each bag electronically, without having the bag physically present.

“SmartClear is designed to capture the image, weight, and baggage tags of luggage as its inducted into the sortation system,” Peirce says. “It’s then displayed for U.S. CBP when they scan a boarding pass.” The information about the passenger, their luggage, and travel itinerary are then displayed on a screen for easy processing. As the traveler is passed through, a notification is sent to the bag handler that the passenger has cleared customs.

If a bag needs to be physically inspected, SmartClear can assist with that too. If a U.S. CBP agent identifies a red flag as he/she is remotely checking the baggage on their screen, the SmartClear system allows them to recall the bag, according to Peirce.  This triggers a chain of automated events that brings the baggage to U.S. CBP for secondary inspection, allowing the agent to physically inspect the baggage with the passenger. Peirce, who participates in several of the baggage and automation working groups for IATA, tells us that SmartClear uses IATA standard baggage processing messages (BPMs) throughout the system.

For travelers, this process also improves their experience within the airport, allowing them to shorten their time in lines, quickly pass through screening processes, and spend more time in the terminals with access to shopping and dining before boarding a plane.

“Given the benefits they provide, its likely that use of automated immigration solutions will continue to expand,” said Chapman. “Airports should continue to evolve their baggage processes as these systems gain traction in more countries world wide.”

For more information on IATA Baggage standards, click here.