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If connecting thru ATL on return trip, there may be serious delays at ATL Passport Control

If you're connecting through Atlanta (ATL) on your return trip from Europe, you might want to plan on unexpectedly long delays at US Passport Control at ATL, it may take longer than you think.
On Friday it took us about 1 and 1/2 hours just at passport control. The 1 and 1/2 hours is just the time in Passport Control and doesn't include the time for the additional steps: getting checked baggage, US customs, TSA security screening, and getting to the other terminal for our connecting flight.

To make a longer story short, we had 2 hours connection time but missed our connecting flight because of the delay at passport control. First time we've ever missed a connecting flight returning from Europe.

Apparently the delay at Atlanta's passport control is not an isolated incident and has made the local Atlanta news because the delays have been occurring frequently there--that's what two different airport employees told us.

A thumbs up to Delta Airlines for getting us home without having to sleep in Atlanta, and without charging us extra for the changed tickets.

Posted by
98 posts

Thanks for the warning. We will be connecting through Atlanta this July. Maybe something will be done about it by that time, but I seriously doubt it. At certain times, the same thing happens at Charlotte. I would love to get Global Entry, but the two closest places for us to get it are both a good 4 hours away.

Posted by
113 posts

Oh no, I have to go thru ATL too. A good reason to have only carry^on luggage .. that will help. However, when I took a short Easy Jet hop from Barcelona with backpack and small suitcase, thez told me...after i had checked in...that i couldnt take my pack on board. Had to frantically cram all stuff, including pack, in already full suitcase and carry my passport,billfold,etc. in my hand. No more Easy Jet.

Posted by
947 posts

When my friend and I flew home from Europe last summer with a connecting flight at Dulles Airport (we called it Dullest), we waited in line at passport control for over an hour. As I recall, there were only 2 control agents for the hundreds of people with US passports on our and another arriving flight. (It was equally bad for those with other passports.)
People were saying that it was the agency's way of protesting budget cuts.
Luckily we had a 3 1/4 hour layover. But not everyone was so fortunate.

Posted by
193 posts

We had a ridiculous time in ATL clearing customs last October! In the past Houston stood out as a problem, but last May we cleared customs there so easy it was incredible! In Houston they have automated kiosks now that let us answer all the declaration statements and scan our passport, then we breezed through to get our bags and recheck them. ATL almost made us miss our connection! With our upcoming travels we go through ATL but the tour operator has built in a 5 hour layover... So we should be fine. Airport waiting is no fun - but missing a flight is worse!

Posted by
10185 posts

Based on missing our connecting flight on Friday in Atlanta, I'm re-evaluating connection time and I think I will no longer consider 2 hours (between scheduled arrival time of the international flight and departure of the U.S. connecting flight) adequate, when you have to undergo U.S. Passport Control.
That's the way the airline booked it, but it only took missing one connecting flight to change my mind about that.
I've also almost missed a connecting flight at Dulles due to delays in Passport Control.
Atlanta even has the automated kiosks but it didn't help where 3 or 4 international wide-body flights arrive at the same time, that's a thousand people standing in line.

Posted by
6538 posts

There's a common problem at many U.S. airports, and it's not just Atlanta. Sounds as if it's a governmental staffing problem/shortage. Don't look for improvements anytime soon.

Posted by
2347 posts

Oh, Kent. Poor Kent. The worst thing, the saddest thing, the most terrible thing about your story, is that it means you've left Paris. I'm so sorry! I hope it was a great trip.

Posted by
10185 posts

Karen,
Well, we all have to come back sooner or later.
I'm lucky to have the perfect travel companion, my wife.
It was a wonderful trip. Every detail went off as planned in Paris and environs....
until we returned to the clutches of the US Government at Atlanta Passport Control. :-)
Thumbs up to Delta for getting us on the next flight stand-by, didn't have to sleep in Atlanta with no clothes and toiletries!

Most of us have to come back sometime.
I guess there's a limit on how much fun you can have.

And it's good to be home.

Posted by
4435 posts

Based on missing our connecting flight on Friday in Atlanta, I'm re-evaluating connection time and I think I will no longer consider 2 hours (between scheduled arrival time of the international flight and departure of the U.S. connecting flight) adequate...

Or you could just sign up for Global Entry. The last 3 years, I have not waited in a single line on arrival to the U.S. The kiosk takes about 2 minutes to use.

Posted by
10185 posts

Global Entry sounds like a good idea.

Posted by
7606 posts

Hoping there is never a next time but if you are flying Delta and you have to overnight somewhere due to a missed connection you can go to (usually) their lost baggage department and pick up a hygiene kit. It's a nice bag with a Tee shirt and some basic toiletries. I unfortunately had to avail myself of this amenity last December when my home airport was fogged in for 24+ hours.

Sorry you are home Kent, I was enjoying your real time reports!

Posted by
1485 posts

There "may" be delays?

Nope, there "will" be delays. And then the 'Friendly' agents will treat you like a returning terrorist. LOL!

Atlanta immigration is the worst. I expect that part of the problem is the local management team, but I can't prove it. They media has implied they tell the staff to "slow down" to protest things like budget cuts etc... in other words "let's make a staff shortage even worse to make us look important"

Posted by
6695 posts

Very funny. We reduce budgets with the sequestre but expect the same service as before. We can pay our way out of the line with Global Entry or by restoring the budget. I don't think the empolyees are having a good time, either.

Posted by
1436 posts

We went through ATL customs/immigration for the first time last week. We were impressed by the number of staff pointing us in the right direction as opposed to other places like ORD. That was the one good thing. However, even with Global Entry, not all the automated kiosks worked and there wasn't anyone around to help. After that, it was pretty much a walk through. Friends coming in the same day without GE waited 45 min.

If you don't live close to an airport that does GE, you can book your appointment for a day you either have a flight or are in the area.

Posted by
1838 posts

Kent,
Interesting!!

We had an absolute awful experience going thru immigration/passport control in Atlanta in March. Long, long line of people waiting (seemingly for nothing), and the line was at a total stand-still. After waiting too patiently for too long, I asked, was told that it was a shift change......then waiting for a long time again.....I asked to speak to a manager in charge.

Things began to move. But, here is what's odd:

They have an automated device into which you have to insert your passport and enter data (I don't recall which data....we were exhausted and tired from an overseas flight), lots of people (including us) were having trouble with the device, which ultimately printed out a piece of paper that we were to give to the actual agents when we went thru the passport control booth/clearance. But, what's so terribly funny, the agent at the booth collected the same info again (and also shared when we asked that the automated thing didn't seem to be working to save time). I saw, first hand, government waste at its best (or worst).

Then, when luggage was recollected and people leaving (we were staying the night in Atlanta...it was late), we witnessed one of the security guys where we went thru a check again with passports and luggage) ram a cart of luggage into a woman, when he was frustrated that someone was not moving their luggage quickly enough. The woman was physically knocked over, and the security/passport guy in that lane started yelling at the guy from the other lane who rammed the lady. It was totally unbelievable. We seriously worried a fist fight would result...luckily they seemed to cool down. Unbelievable!!! The lady who was knocked down seemed to take it all in stride.

All I could think was: What a terrible impression this would leave on anyone from another country who was entering the US for the first time as a visitor!!!

I used to do anything I could to avoid Kennedy, and I will try to avoid Atlanta (at least for re-entering the US) until I hear things have improved.

Our flight home had been cancelled (several weeks prior) for the night we arrived, which meant we had to stay overnight in Atlanta, otherwise we would have had a very tight connection. Maybe the airline, realizing what was going on in Atlanta, chose to cancel the flight rather than have a bunch of people who would have likely missed it. Interesting!

Posted by
31 posts

We went through ATL last Wednesday and agree that the system has too many redundancies. First, the kiosk. You put your passport into the scanner and it takes your photo. Other than creating another piece of paper, this kiosk does nothing. You still have to stand in a long line for a human being to do the same thing.

They had two lines: One for connecting passengers and another for ATL passengers. Does the one for connecting passengers move faster? NO. Delta had changed our ticket so that we had an hour and a half to make the change. One short bathroom stop and we had to really hurry, as our next flight was boarding when we finally made it there. I should add that our flight from Madrid was only 2/3 full.

Another redundancy: We had one checked bag. Rather than have the bag go through to our final destination, we had to pick up the bag at one baggage carousel and walk it over to another. There was no additional screening or anything.

Then after the kiosk, the customs agent, the checked baggage handover, you go through yet another control and another TSA security screening. (We'd been in a secure area of the airport the entire time, why another x-ray and scan?)

When we flew back on Delta the last time we went to Europe (also after 9-11) we went through customs in Cincinnati. Much easier.

Posted by
3398 posts

Global Entry is well worth the $100 (I think one-time only) fee. It also gives you guaranteed TSA Pre-Checked status whenever/wherever you fly. We got ours just after the program started. Hubby has flow internationally since then, but I haven't had the opportunity. But we've used the pre-check line on everyone of our domestic flights for 2+ years now. That's about 25-30 round trips (or about 60 times). Saves major time AND MAJOR hassle with the TSA. No longer have to take off jackets, shoes, etc. and our 3-1-1 bags, computers, phones, etc. stay in our bags. We are usually through the TSA Pre-Check line in about 3-5 min., vs. 10 or more in the 'regular' line. Hubby said when he got back from his international flights that the special Global Entry kiosk was easy and quick to use. NO ONE else was using it on his flights. For a while Am. Express was reimbursing the $100 fee- don't know if that is still true. We missed out on it, but if you have an AMEX card, do check before applying.

Posted by
180 posts

Hear, hear Bets. I doubt this is a deliberate attempt on anyone's part to protest budget cuts. It's probably the easily foreseen result of consistent budget cuts.

Posted by
8503 posts

Meanwhile, CPB opened a pre-clearance hub in Abu Dhabi to be used exclusivley by Etihad airlines.

So, we sent resources--people--to a foreign country so passengers of a foreign owned airline don't have to wait in U.S. immigration lines.

Gee, I wonder how that happened?

Posted by
10185 posts

I've decided I'm doing Global Entry.
The guaranteed TSA Pre on domestic flights--that alone is worth it.
Plus I don't want to miss another connecting flight when coming home from Europe.

Posted by
4435 posts

Global Entry doesn't "guarantee" that you will get selected for TSA precheck. It only makes you eligible if updated your frequent flyer profile and the airline you are flying with participates.

Posted by
540 posts

Toni,

FYI, the Global Entry fee is $100 every five years. I signed up for it last year and here in Boston couldn't get an appointment until after I had returned home from France ( the appointments are literally months out...). However, I have had a chance to use TSA Pre-Check and that was great. I can't wait to try global Entry this summer. :)

Posted by
1485 posts

"Then after the kiosk, the customs agent, the checked baggage handover, you go through yet another control and another TSA security screening. (We'd been in a secure area of the airport the entire time, why another x-ray and scan?)"

Because that "pick up of luggage" from one place to the other was a walk though customs. During that time you had access to your bags. So your dangerous objects could have been removed from checked luggage. Basically you have left the "secure" area (using the word "secure" very loosely here!)

As to expecting the same service after a government cutback, no that's not realistic. But that does not mean that those people still employed should do LESS then they did before which is what appears to be happening in Atlanta

Posted by
31 posts

If it's just Atlanta, then something else is going on besides a government cutback.

Posted by
1838 posts

Comment re: budget cuts:
For Atlanta, the evening we landed, there were plenty of staff standing around just staring at us or talking with one another, while we were all left motionless in a long, long line that was not moving. I talked with at least three uniformed people, who stood watching the line, as I asked what was happening (or not happening), and then finally asked who was in charge and if I could speak with them, so I could find out what was up. I was extremely polite in my inquiries and kept a calm voice (but inside I was furious). Once I made that final request, things seemed to begin to move (but I doubt my inquiry was the 'cause' of the action).

While I was told it was a shift change, I never saw anyone leave or anyone new arrive. So, maybe it was a shift from 'working to not working.' Then FINALLY back to 'working.' I really just could not figure out what the heck was going on.....it was insanely weird.

I hate to say it, but I think 'it's just the Atlanta airport.' Catching a taxi was another weird experience, after we completely gave up on the shuttle bus (since we received three different answers on how to find it) to our hotel that was almost within walking distance (but due to layout of the airport, parking, multi lanes, it really would not be safe to try to walk).

Posted by
1436 posts

Ironically, I just got a survey about the customs/immigration experience that I had last week at ATL. So, maybe they are already aware there's a problem. Either that or they're monitoring chat boards.

Posted by
334 posts

We just connected through ATL on Sunday, May 17 and did not have any issue with US Passport Control. We even remarked how much faster and more efficient ATL was than JFK (which we went through on our last international flight). We do not have Global Entry. When we walked up to US Passport Control, someone directed us to an unused kiosk. We quickly filled out the form and were in line. The line moved quickly as there were several working passport control -- it was under 5 minutes. The longest wait was for TSA security screening for getting into the terminal for our connector, but the wait was nothing our of the ordinary. Making our way through passport control, customs, security and walking to our next gate was probably about 40 minutes total.

Obviously, we had two very different experiences. Perhaps it was just that no other international flights arrived at the same time as ours.

Posted by
10185 posts

Your last sentence is the key. They (gov't) have the resources to know when large planes are landing from Europe with hundreds of people needing to go through Passport Control. I landed Friday afternoon, after being booked that way with an airline that, while not responsible for US Gov't staffing, should have known that a 2 hour connection time wasn't going to work.