Just over 6000 passengers at Auckland’s international arrivals have been invited to trial a new Express Lane, aimed at cutting down unacceptable wait times at the border.
This comes just weeks after some passenger screening times approached two hours at New Zealand’s busiest international arrivals hall, on September 17.
Arriving at the New Zealand border, there are many checks and factors that can stack up to a substantial waiting time.
With customs and biosecurity screening requirements to clear — on top of waiting for checked luggage to be processed and delivered to the arrivals hall — the airport is trialling ways to ease congestion at Auckland’s many layers of border screening.
Now it is hoped a biosecurity Express Lane path might allow some travellers with “nothing to declare” to cruise through required checks and, hopefully, speed up the process for all arrivals.
Since September 22, 6286 passengers have been processed under the trial.
Northern regional commissioner for the Ministry for Primary Industries, Mike Inglis, said the trial was already having an effect on wait times during the busy school holiday period.
Open to New Zealand passengers identified as “low risk” in terms of biosecurity, Inglis says it is among measures that have already contributed to lowering processing times. Nearly 40 per cent of arrivals to Auckland are now eligible to pass through the Express Lanes.
“Biosecurity processing has been working well at international airports for arriving passengers over the holidays. The average biosecurity processing time, from entering the biosecurity lane to exiting risk assessment, has been close to nine minutes during the holiday period,” says Inglis.
This is down from an average of 13 minutes and 16 seconds in February.
Ministry for Primary Industries' trial of an express lane for Auckland Airport's international arrivals aims to cut down unacceptable queues. Photo / Michael Craig
Some international arrivals, invited to take part in the trial, without checked luggage told the Herald they were able to pass through the terminal from plane to arrivals hall in 10 minutes, saying it was a “great improvement” on last month.
Inglis says the Express Lane is still subject to checks by detector dogs, which have found undeclared fruit and sandwiches among the trial arrivals.
“We remind travellers that they should do the right thing and declare any risk items to avoid fines and delays,” he says.
However, while biosecurity screening has been streamlined by the new Express Lane queue, Customs wait times have slowly been creeping up.
In some cases passengers are already unacceptably delayed before they even reach biosecurity screening.
Customs and passport processing creeps up to unacceptable 45-minute mark
New Zealand Customs service standards aim for a maximum of 45 minutes for processing passengers from landing through to passport controls. However, there have been points in the past year where multiple arrivals, passenger declarations and bottlenecks of services have led to processing exceeding this.
At three points in the past fortnight, arrivals met or or exceeded the maximum wait time before they had even cleared passport control.
Disruption during the week of September 11 meant average wait times approached 44.3 minutes for 90 per cent of passengers.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) gives 45 minutes as the maximum wait for normal customs inspection.
The optimal, expected processing time is just 20 minutes.
A spokesperson for Auckland Airport says the New Zealand arrivals process is a complex one with many moving parts.
“The arrivals process is made up of a chain of organisations operating together in a system — airlines, ground handlers, Customs, Biosecurity New Zealand and Auckland Airport,” they said.
Overall the new trials to streamline screening, including the biosecurity Express Lane, had led to faster processing during school holidays.
The median time for the arrivals process for the first week of the school holiday was 10 per cent faster than for the previous six months.
“Everyone has been collectively pulling out all the stops to ensure travellers have a smooth experience over the busy school holiday period,” saying that the Biosecurity Express Lane had “shown early signs of success”.
It is hoped the trial might be in place for a busy expected summer travel period ahead and be rolled out to other international airport arrivals.
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