DFW AIRPORT — Passengers arriving from overseas stood for more than four hours in a line snaking through a second floor corridor in Terminal D on Monday as they waited to clear Customs at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
"This was hands-down the worst experience we've had with Customs," said Matt Quinn, a traveler who was stuck in the line.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not address short staffing issues, but instead blamed the airlines for Monday's lengthy delays.
"There were 31 incoming flights that experienced CBP wait times exceeding 120 minutes," said David Patino, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman in an e-mail to News 8. "The extended wait times were the result of concurrent flight arrivals and off-schedule arrivals, resulting in an unexpected and significant increase in the number of travelers arriving within a short period of time. CBP worked to process the passengers as quickly as possible, and partnered with air carriers to prioritize the processing of passengers with connecting flights in order to minimize the number of missed connections."
But excessive wait times for Customs are not new to DFW.
News 8 first reported the growing problem in June. Since then, traveler after traveler has e-mailed the newsroom about similar experiences; some reporting waits of two-and-a-half hours.
One man guessed there might have been 3,000 people in line with him earlier this month, and in June a passenger said it took him three hours to walk out of the airport after his international flight landed.
"We were standing along and talking to some other folks from Albuquerque and Los Angeles and they all mentioned that, unfortunately, they probably wouldn't fly through Dallas any longer," Quinn added.
"We are concerned that people will choose other airports," said David Magaña, DFW Airport spokesman. "Now having said that, other airports are having the same issue."
New York's JFK, Houston Intercontinental, Los Angeles and Miami have all reported excessive waits to clear Customs after arriving from out of the country.
DFW blames "federal inactivity." Customs staffing hasn't kept up with growth in international travelers, Magaña said, and sequestration is exacerbating it.
"We have seen our Customs line get a little bit longer, but we have not seen a response from Washington to meet that demand. Unfortunately, it sounds trite," he continued, "but this really is one of those issues where we really are asking people to call their congressmen and say, 'Hey, this one is important.'"
DFW Airport has already invested $200,000 to purchase 30 of its own automated passport control kiosks intended to speed up waiting passengers. That will free up manpower for Customs to address more passengers.
"CBP does not have a wait time standard, but works to process passengers as quickly as possible while maintaining the highest standards of security," Patino added in his statement.
Customs insists it is "aggressively working to transform its air passenger processing efforts by automating travel documents, integrating mobile technology and advanced biometric solutions, and working closely with the carriers and airport authorities on operational enhancements."
But the federal law enforcement agency did not immediately respond to questions about when passengers at DFW and other major airports would begin to see relief.