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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New customs stations help save time, stress

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

According to federal data from 2005, arriving international passengers at Honolulu International Airport face an average 40-minute wait to clear customs, the fourth-longest in the nation.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The addition of seven customs checkpoints at Honolulu International Airport has reduced wait times for international visitors arriving in Hawai'i, according to state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.

The state Department of Transportation and U.S. Customs and Border Protection added seven inspector booths before the New Year's holiday rush of visitors last month, bringing the number of operational booths to 59, Wienert said.

About 7,500 international passengers arrived in Honolulu on Dec. 29 the airport usually averages about 4,000 a day and passengers were processed in less than 30 minutes and no one needed to be held at the gate, Wienert said.

The previous year, passengers waited up to two hours, she said.

"We looked at where the challenges were, we addressed the new challenges with the new booths, and with everyone cooperating, meaning Customs and Border Protection, the airlines, DOT (the Department of Transportation), we were able to move 7,500 people at our peak through customs and immigration with no gate holds," Wienert said.

Scott Ishikawa, state Department of Transportation spokes-man, said customs officials had previously been processing an average of 2,000 passengers per hour at the Honolulu airport. But with the new booths, as well as educational programs by the airlines and the transportation department, officials have been processing 2,500 passengers an hour, he said.

"Everybody's trying to work together to speed up the process," Ishikawa said. "We all want the lines to move much more smoothly. We think we're headed in that direction."

Long lines for immigration and customs clearance have been among the top complaints of Japanese visitors, according to statistics compiled by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Last year, the federal Government Accounting Office found that international passengers arriving in Honolulu face an average 40-minute wait to clear customs, the fourth-longest in the nation. In September 2004, customs officials began to require all foreigners, including Japanese visitors, to be fingerprinted and photographed before they leave the airport.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.