Letters to the Editor

MIA, American address international passengers’ concerns

Recently, I joined Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Emilio Gonzalez, director of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department (MDAD) at Miami International Airport to celebrate the successes achieved this past year as a result of working together to benefit customers at MIA.

In early 2014, American Airlines’ international arriving customers faced many challenges during the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) process because of inadequate CBP officer staffing, facility constraints and antiquated technology. As a result, many customers were waiting for hours in the arrivals hall, which led to missed connections. The situation was well documented and untenable. It not only affected American, but also MIA’s reputation and future as a major international connecting hub.

International passengers are important to the local economy. The county estimates that the average daily international flight generates $23 million in annual business revenue. If you add up the 140 daily international flights that American currently operates at MIA, that’s more than $3.2 billion in revenue that we bring to Miami-Dade each year just from those flights.

Fortunately, through the work of many, including the South Florida Congressional delegation, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the County Commission, the Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Chamber, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and many others, we were able to highlight the challenges MIA was experiencing and address it as a team.

As a result, we instituted programs that not only help our customers and American, but also help Miami retain its position as one of our nation’s premier international gateways. These include:

▪ American became the first carrier to offer its pilots and flight attendants complimentary membership in the Global Entry program; in turn reducing the number of people needing to go through the inspection process upon arrival.

▪ CBP rolled out the Mobile Passport Control App allowing passengers to electronically submit their travel information in advance.

▪ CBP and MDAD created additional exits in the international baggage area, helping to speed the flow of passengers.

▪ MDAD and American hired additional staff both in passport control and baggage clearance to better manage the CBP baggage exit.

▪ American and MIA’s program to supplement CBP’s overtime budget during peak hours has helped reduce wait times.

▪ MDAD plans to install almost 80 new Automatic Passport Control kiosks by 2016., to expedite customers through Customs.

▪ CBP dedicated more officers to Miami to more quickly process our joint customers.

As a result, we’ve seen real progress at Miami. In the first quarter of 2015, the number of American’s international passengers who missed their connecting flights because of lengthy wait times was reduced by almost 30 percent. Additionally, since last August, CBP can tout six months where both average and maximum wait times decreased.

This community should be proud of all of this progress — it is a huge accomplishment. We have achieved important results that ultimately, benefit, South Florida.

Robert Isom, executive vice president and COO, American Airlines, Fort Worth, Texas