Customs Agent Shortage at Airports May Cost Travel Time

U.S. Customs officer shortage threatens to create long lines

Peggy Clemmer of Memphis, Tenn., said it took her about 15 minutes at Newark airport on her flight from Shannon, Ireland.

"What I appreciated was they were so much nicer here in the U.S.," Clemmer said. "They greeted you with a smile."

When the lines grow long, there are fewer smiles from customs officers and travelers. That could be the case later this summer, officials said.

July and August tend to be the peak period for international into the region's airports, according to the Port Authority.

And this year, the numbers of travelers will be higher than the 9.3 million passengers who arrived in 2006, said William DeCota, the agency's aviation director.

"The weak dollar is attracting a lot of international visitors," DeCota said. "Then, on top of that, we have new international airlines and new international routes starting at our airports this summer."

How bad will things be on the customs lines?

"We are always worried whether there's sufficient level of staff to accommodate the demand," DeCota said. "You want to see people make it through the system in 30 minutes, but during peak periods last summer we had waiting times at JFK of approximately 2 hours."

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