My small contribution to your convenience at the border

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From my recently submitted comment to CBP
I recently re-entered the United States through the CBP International Arrivals checkpoint at SFO and wanted to share with you my observations about the way the checkpoint is configured. At least at the US Citizens side, passengers enter a single roped serpentine line that then fans out at the end to a large number of individual agents. However, because the serpentine line exits quite far from the agents' stations, this encourages passengers to form individual lines in front of each agent; I have also seen agents encourage passengers to do so. In my past three visits the lines at each agent have been between around 10 passengers deep.

Unfortunately, because there is a large amount of variation in how long any passenger takes to process, and likely in the speed of each agent, some lines inevitably move much slower than others, with the result that passengers who arrived earlier can get stuck in a slow line and end up actually being served quite some time behind a passenger who arrived later. On more than one occastion I have observed passengers switch lines when they realized they were in this situation. Once I even observed an agent leave for a break stranding passengers who had been waiting for him. Obviously, these are only minor inconveniences, but nevertheless they are annoying ones, especially when dealing with passengers who are eager to get home after a long flight.

The fix for this problem is simple and well-known: have passengers wait at the exit to the serpentine line and then pick whichever agent becomes open next rather than forming individual per-agent lines. In some cases, it also helps to have an agent at the end of the line to direct them if it is not otherwise obvious. This is, for instance, how things work at the customs checkpoint London Heathrow. I believe a similar strategy would represent a small, but significant improvement in the experience of passengers entering the United States at SFO.

BTW, the stranded passenger was me, but I figured that would just confuse things to mention. My point is structural.


Note that the airlines at SFO know this perfectly well. When checking in outbound at SFO, the serpentine line -> counter split-off works as you advocate.

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