6

Whenever I've been through an airport since the e-passport gates were introduced, I have had bad experiences with them. When I used them, I was slower than my family who went through normal border control; the machine crashed and I had to go through the normal channel anyway. When I didn't it turned out to be a good decision, because they closed all of them due to a malfunction, and the queuing travellers all had to go through a single manual lane. This was at Stansted and Heathrow Terminal 5.

Is it however a good decision to go through through the e-passport lane, because it is usually faster?

4

It will be heavily dependent on the country. I live in Japan, where the automatic gates are slower as they are almost never used and someone has to come over and start it up. I use it so they don't pollute my passport with entry stamps.

In Canada, the self-serve process is faster than the lines unless the system is behind on it's quota of random secondary inspections. Not a big inconvenience last trip - the customs guy said "personally I think random inspections are a waste of my time..." and his "inspection" amounted to 3 questions, a bag x-ray and he walked me out the exit. Have a nice day, eh.

3

This is going to greatly depend on the country, and to an extent, the airport. Perhaps even also the flight, airline, and time of day.

For an attempt at an Australian answer, the e-passport gates here are currently only available to passport holders from 8 countries (Australia, New Zealand, US and UK included). They're planning to expand this (including through trials) to other nationalities.

Because of this, if you come in on a flight - or at the same time as other flights - that have a lot of other nationalities on them, you may find the e-passport gates are faster (assuming you qualify of course)!

The key is going to be which line is shorter. I'm not sure if the e-passport system in other countries is the same, but in Australia, you need to line up at an e-kiosk machine to get your passport scanned, answer a couple of questions, and receive a paper ticket which you insert into the passport gate later on (after which your face gets scanned).

At some Australian airports (at least Melbourne and Sydney, but possibly others too), these kiosks are placed systematically alongside the route you take to walk towards passport control (alongside the duty free shops, etc.).

People who haven't used the kiosks before line up at the first several they see. Each time I have returned to Australia, this has resulted in long lines at the first few groups of kiosks, whereas if you continue to walk right past towards passport control, you'll find many free kiosks directly next to the passport gates.

Therefore, depending on the factors I mentioned earlier, the answer in Australia is often either:

  • both the e-passport gates and the manual border control take a similar amount of time, OR
  • the e-passport gates are much quicker if you bypass the first few groups of kiosks you see
1

I think the objective is not really to speed up clearances – just to reduce the manpower requirement. Both systems usually have queues so when you arrive and make your choice others (if they have the choice) have probably evened out the delays anyway. The gates do seem to have had teething problems for quite a while which can’t help, but then many passengers may yet be encountering them for the first time. I think I have seen them work slickly (in the Netherlands?) But it may still be a gamble: steady but slow progress at the manned stations or rapid progress at the automatic ones – until they grind to a complete halt.

1

In Gatwick, a few weeks ago was the first time ever that I managed to get through the e-passport lane without being held up massively. Before that, one of the more infuriating problems was that while wearing glasses, the stupid machine wouldn't recognise me, and when taking the glasses off, I couldn't read the stupid instructions. And this time I only got through because by sheer coincidence I put my passport into the stupid passport reader in exactly the right way. My wife didn't, so I had to wait for her for ages.

  • I've had this exact problem with glasses at the Australian e-gates too. Before I learned the instructions off by heart so I didn't have to read them, I would just go through the gates and let it fail, at which point I'd be taken to a special manual line and avoid all the real lines ;) – Tim Malone Jun 12 '16 at 23:49
  • yup, same at Amsterdam. The machines are extremely tricky to use correctly. Glasses? just take them off. They now require you to get your passport photograph taken without glasses, too... – jwenting Jun 13 '16 at 13:25
  • @jwenting The problem with taking the glasses off - at least until you know how it works - is that you then can't read the instructions :) The Aussie ones tell you when and where to look and I constantly missed that until I did it with my glasses on – Tim Malone Jun 13 '16 at 20:59
  • @TimMalone you'd obviously only take them off for the face scan... – jwenting Jun 15 '16 at 9:40
  • @jwenting I know that now :P Took a few goes to get it – Tim Malone Jun 15 '16 at 9:41

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