Relief could be near — and might already have arrived — for international passengers coming to Miami International Airport.
After wait times in the passport processing areas approached as much as five hours earlier this year, MIA now has another tool to deploy: the ability to pay U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers overtime out of its own budget.
An agreement between the federal agency and Miami-Dade, as well as four other airports or cities in Texas, was finalized Thursday. The airport has budgeted up to $6 million over the next five years to pay for customs officials to work extra when needed.
Ken Pyatt, the Miami-Dade Aviation Department’s deputy director for operations, said the airport will examine planned CBP staffing levels and airline booked load factors to determine if there will be adequate staff. If not, the airport will be able to pay for more customs officers to process international arrivals.
“To me, the overtime reimbursement program is another self-help measure the airport has taken to improve the experience for our customers,” he said.
The airport has the ability to start using the program immediately, but Pyatt said the goal is to be judicious.
“We are paying premium rates for the extra staffing, so obviously we want to make sure that we’re getting the best bang for our bucks,” he said.
Before the Thanksgiving travel rush, the airport installed 34 automated passport kiosks for U.S. and Canadian citizens to use, which Pyatt said has helped reduce waits.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, he said CBP reported average wait times of 27-30 minutes with 90 percent of customers processed in less than an hour.
Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association, said Miami’s moves are positive for travelers.
Automated passport kiosks are part of a long-term solution, she said, while overtime reimbursement might not work for every airport because they might not have the resources.
“That’s why we do believe that this is a federal responsibility and that the federal government should make it a priority to invest more resources to hire more CBP officers,” Rojas-Ungar said.