aNewDomain — If you travel abroad more than twice a year, you’ve probably stood in a long customs line, wishing for an app to save the day.
Guess what? U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“customs”) doesn’t like those long lines any more than we do. So they worked with Airside Mobile to create Mobile Passport, an app designed to speed us through customs. Instead of filling out a paper form, we answer the brief questions about our trip in the app. And we can thank Airports Council International North America for sponsoring the development of this free app.
The iOS version made its debut last August, and the Android version arrived in the Google Play store on February 17. Although download statistics are confidential, Airside Mobile wrote me that the app was #31 out of 20,000 travel apps at one point on iTunes. So far, several thousand passengers have been processed through the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (“Atlanta Airport”), which was the first airport offering the service. This week Miami International Airport began using the special kiosks, and more airports will have Mobile Control kiosks in the near future.
Here’s my review of the app, which is virtually identical on both platforms.
Easy to Use
Mobile Passport is so straightforward, a 10-year old could fill it out. You create your profile with your passport info and snap a selfie headshot. The app expects travelers to take their own photo so the app opens the shutter on the front facing camera. But since you can load passport details, it is easy to switch to the back camera to take photos of other members of your family to be stored with their passport info.
U.S. citizens with a valid U.S. passport and Canadian citizens with both a valid Canadian passport and B1 or B2 visa status can use the Mobile Passport app. Travelers also need an Android or iOS device with a working Internet connection for the app to share your trip answers and information with customs.
After creating your profile with a photo and your passport details, it is stored in the app. You create a 4-digit pin to retrieve the profile for future trips. You can answer the customs questions in advance and store the trip. Upon arrival, you hit “submit,” wait about three seconds for a receipt and then head to the kiosks in the “Mobile Passport Control” Express Lane.
And if you hate your app passport photo, you can edit your passport info and re-shoot the photo.
Why you want it
If you hate waiting in long lines but don’t have Global Entry status, Mobile Passport is a great free option. And if you frequently fly Delta overseas, chances are that Atlanta is often the city where you re-enter the country. If you do not frequently travel abroad, Global Entry’s application process and non-refundable $100 application fee may not make sense for you.
When I returned from Belgium in January, my friend used the app while I used Global Entry. We zipped through our respective speed-through lines and were ready to head to baggage claim at the same time. I talked her into trying the app because a Delta flight told me that crew members without Global Entry often beat him through Customs using the app. I was going to use the app myself in Atlanta and had submitted my trip after our plane landed. But when I saw that my friend, Ann, was going to have to wait in a short line and there was no line for the Global Entry kiosks, I told her I would race her. And then we tied.
Although more airports will be getting Mobile Passport kiosks soon, Atlanta and Miami are the only airports with the kiosks now. If you seldom change planes in Atlanta or Miami when returning from abroad, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for airports with Automated Passport Control kiosks that can also expedite your re-entry into the country. Along with U.S. and Canadian passport holders, international visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries can also use these kiosks. APC kiosks are available in more than 30 airports including cities in the U.S. and Canada along with Abu Dhabi International Airport and Dublin International Airport.
Airports, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and companies like Airside Mobile are working to improve our airport experience, so that we feel welcomed home rather than punished with a long queue.
Screenshots by Terry Gardner. Tweet courtesy of John Clapp.