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International Travel Will Get Easier With Upcoming Mobile Passport Control App

August 11, 2014 - Written By Tom Miller

If you’ve ever flown internationally, then you know what a pain it can sometimes be when coming back into the U.S. Sitting on an airplane, filling out the declaration form and hoping they didn’t run out of the ones printed in your native language, then dealing with the lines of people waiting for entry, which can be long even when you have nothing to claim. Soon though, thanks to the Airports Council-North America and its work with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), a possible solution will arrive for Android users. According to the U.S. Customs website, the two aforementioned agencies have been working together to develop an Android application called Mobile Passport Control, MPC for short, that will speed up the process of entering the US for its citizens and those of Canada. Initially, the app will only work for those passengers entering the U.S. at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (if a person’s flight is redirected for some reason, they will be given instructions on how to complete U.S. entry using the traditional method), but if its successful there is no doubt it will spread quickly, given the length of the lines at the CBP at U.S. flight entry points.

The way it works goes something like this: An MPC user (having already downloaded the app and set up a profile), upon landing at the U.S. airport, fills out a virtual declaration form on their phone, takes a picture of themselves with the app, then submits it at which point they receive a QR (Quick Response) code (A square matrix code that stores information about the declaration form) that is encrypted, as is all communication between the main server that processes the information and a traveler’s handset. Then, when the person arrives at the CBP passport processing area, the whole ordeal takes much less time, as the administrative tasks normally handled by the agent in their booth is already done and they can just scan the QR code and do a visual verification of the person’s photo against their actual passport (which will still be required for the foreseeable future.) Of course, all of this does mean that travelers using the app will need wireless access of some kind, but that shouldn’t be a problem these days.

Those passengers traveling with family need not worry, as up to three profiles can be created for family members as well, allowing the rest of the family to reap the rewards of getting through U.S. Customs faster, too, something that should lower the stress factor for families that might already be exhausted from a long flight back to the U.S. and not looking forward to standing in a long line. While the app is currently only available for iOS devices, the agency website states a version for Android should show up in the play store sometime in Fall 2014, just in time for the busy holiday travel season. We’ll be sure to check back in February to see how much of an effect the new system had for those returning from distant family vacations. It was also stated that the agencies plan to work with the airline industry to create more mobile apps to aid passengers in getting safely and securely back into the U.S. in a timely fashion. It has been encouraging to see airlines adopting a more mobile-centric mindset to aid their customers in checking in baggage or flights, and bringing the average level of stress down a notch, and its even more encouraging to see a section of the U.S. Government doing the same in an area that definitely needs streamlining.