Security revisions to speed travel for international connections through Miami, all airports
By Paola Iuspa
Reacting to complaints from the airlines, the US Immigration & Naturalization Service will revise post-9/11 security procedures in an effort to reduce delays for international travelers connecting to other foreign flights.
Effective May 27 and affecting all US airports, the changes will require inbound international airlines to electronically send passenger lists to US Customs officials after each US-bound flight departs from its city of origin. Customs officials will share information with other agencies, said Miguel Southwell, assistant director for business development for Miami-Dade County Aviation. After landing, he said, listed passengers will be able to walk through immigration to an in-transit lounge to await connecting flights.
International in-transit travelers will no longer be sent to general terminals and need to be re-screened, along with their bags. That rechecking was taking up to 4 hours, Mr. Southwell said.
With the new rules, airlines will not randomly search luggage but will X-ray all bags.
"This procedure will reduce the waiting time for in-transit passengers," Mr. Southwell said.
Unlisted passengers and their bags still will go through full inspections, according to the US Department of Justice.
The change will not apply to flights arriving from Afghanistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Travelers from those countries will still go through full inspections, according to the document.
The INS was aware that post-9/11 measures were inconvenient for airline passengers and wanted to "smooth the situation," said INS spokesman Rodney Germain. Some changes, such as sending passenger data to US Customs, were planned before 9/11 and are only now being implemented.
The changes will come about a month after Gov. Jeb Bush received a letter from Spain's Iberia Airlines saying the carrier was considering moving its Miami hub to the Caribbean because of passenger delays.
"This procedure brings new life to our operation," an Iberia official based in Miami said Tuesday. "We are very pleased. It will allow us to go back to one hour in connecting time."
Passengers and flight crews stuck at checkpoints were causing flights to be delayed, costing the airlines money and customer service, a Madrid-based Iberia spokesman said.
Mr. Southwell agreed that the post-9/11 rules were increasing costs for all airlines, particularly in Miami. As the US airport with the largest concentration of in-transit travelers, he said, Miami International was severely affected by longer delays and need for more staff.
The local Iberia spokesman said his airline, with two daily flights from Spain to Miami and seven daily trips from Miami to Central America, now plans to keep its Miami hub and in June add two flights to Central America and 155 seats from Miami to Spain.
Representatives at American Airlines, which handles 50% of Miami International's passengers, welcomed the news.
"It will alleviate congestion in customs and immigration," said Minnette Velez, American spokeswoman. "We will be able to connect passengers in less time than our current 4-hour window."