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Keep calm and carry-on your luggage when traveling abroad

by Sarah Devin Kaufman
Jun 6, 2013

International travelers are in luck this summer. O’Hare now has express lines in customs for passengers who haven’t checked bags.

O’Hare introduced the new service called “1-Stop” on Sunday, which will allow international travelers without checked bags entering the airport at Terminal 5 to wait in a separate line at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Control passport control area.

The initiative is meant to expedite wait times in customs lines, which travelers say often run up to three hours.

“1-Stop” signs will be posted in seven languages in the corridor leading up to the passport control area, funneling passengers who haven’t checked bags into a separate lane, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Once passengers in the “1-Stop” line get through passport control, they bypass baggage claim and customs exit control inspection areas, where passengers with checked baggage have to wait. The goal is to lessen wait time for both checked baggage and carry-on baggage lines, the agency said.

O’Hare is among the first airports to implement this initiative, said Milton G. Uribe, chairman of the O’Hare Airline Managers Association, in a statement.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston piloted what it is calling the “OneStop” program in May 2010 and has seen an impressive decrease in wait times, said Yolanda Choates, public affairs specialist for Houston’s customs control.

Choates said she tries to use OneStop whenever she can, because the line for OneStop passengers saves her at least an hour on average.

“Since OneStop has been available, I fold everything as tiny, tiny, tiny, as I can into one carry-on so I can use it,” she said.

Chicago resident Derek Bagley, who travels internationally around five times a year, said he’s excited about the prospect of a shorter wait time when he just wants to get home. “Lines are my habitat,” he said, “and I’m a very impatient person.”

But considering how many international travelers check bags anyway, Bagley said, it will be interesting to see how much effect the “1-Stop” line will have on the wait time of travelers.

“If the percentage is high enough that people are traveling without checked bags, then I am 100 percent in favor of 1-Stop,” he said.

Security checks are the most stressful part of passengers’ experience at the airport, according to SITA, a company that collects data for the air transport industry, in its Passenger Self-Service Survey from 2012. Express line initiatives such as “1-Stop” might help alleviate that stress, Bagley said.

“Frankly, after you’ve been on the plane for sometimes 12 hours, if not even longer, and then you have to walk all the way to the customs area in the maze of different tunnels? By the time you get there you just want your bags, and you just want to go home,” Bagley said.

Customs and Border Protection said in an email it is working to make the airport experience as “fast, intuitive and paperless as possible.”

In addition to the “1-Stop” program, the Chicago Department of Aviation announced in May that O’Hare will be the first airport in the U.S. to implement automated passport control, which will allow passengers with U.S. passports to check in at customs through an automated kiosk.

“Removing the need for an officer to scan or manually input passport data will allow officers to process travelers in about half the time,” the agency said in an email. The kiosks are expected to be installed by July 1.