Don’t Mess With Belgium: Schengen News Warns of EES Delays
After years of contemplation and repeated delays, the EU appears ready to implement a new immigration-emigration protocol that airports and news agencies within and even outside the Schengen Area are warning could multiply delays. Lessons learned from the rollout of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) protocol in the US could help Europe implement the initiative.
A unifying trend
Scheduled to enter into force in May 2023, the Entry-Exit System (EES) is a large-scale system to monitor border crossings into/out of the Schengen Area managed by the European Union. The program accompanies the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), which is concerned with passengers arriving from visa-exempt countries outside of the Schengen Area, such as the US, UK and Australia. Both programs will change the face of EU travel, but the former, EES, is raising alarms among Schengen news outlets.
With EES, passengers who have already been issued an ETIAS before departure will then, upon arrival, undergo biometric checks with e-gates at airports, railway stations and land crossings. The system will capture digitalized fingerprints and facial scans on all incoming foreign visitors and collect this data at departure at all Schengen exit ports. An ETIAS clearance and EES do not guarantee entry, and passengers are still reviewed by a human border patrol agent in a final step.
This is not a true express nor a self-service experience, as passengers will still have to be processed individually by border police. Operators are concerned that this could effectively double each passenger’s processing time.
The population of ETIAS-eligible travelers is enormous, making the EES process an incredibly impactful change. Before the pandemic, about 25 million passengers from the US arrived in the Schengen Area by air each year. Add Brits, Aussies, Kiwis and a whole host of other major inbound visitor markets and the potential for processing and waiting times that make today’s worst times seem like a visit to a beach...like the ones in Europe that foreigners flock to every summer.
The US system, ESTA, is neither new nor perfect. According to a study, detailed in this Points Guy article, wait times in the early part of the 2022 summer travel season worsened considerably compared with pre-pandemic levels. Cognizant of the impact excessive wait times have on customer satisfaction, more airport operators in the US are looking for solutions that bring strategic processes under their control.
A sensor-based Passenger Flow Management System (PFMS) designed and installed by Xovis at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is just one example of the steps US airports are taking to minimize queues and waiting times with confidence.
Complex passenger flows at DFW are similar to those European airports will face with EES: Passengers arriving from visa-exempt countries will have to first queue for a bank of kiosks and then again go for an in-person evaluation with an agent.
DFW uses Xovis PFMS and its automated queue and layout change detection to analyze passenger behavior and determine the different processing times of each sub-group of passengers, even where the queuing space is long, nearly discontinuous in shape, and variably unstructured.
New Solutions for the Old Country
The introduction of the ETIAS document requirement will likely cause an immense short- and medium-term impact on processing times. In conjunction, the EES kiosk pre-screening procedure will cause permanent increases in waiting times for passengers due to the need for additional steps and two separate queueing environments for the kiosk use and then the border patrol officer review.
With the correct KPIs being measured, such as queue length, wait times (both predictive and actual), throughput, process time, dwell time, and fill level for each passenger type/queue area, kiosk, lane, and agent, you can iteratively optimize your international arrivals hall for the next wave of passenger traffic growth expected in 2023. Such metrics facilitate the ability to optimize kiosk/desk utilization to ensure maximal infrastructure use, throughput, and the right-size staff planning and scheduling at a granular level.
In the end, eliminating queues is a distant dream. But simply accepting that reality is not enough, as queueing remains the biggest threat to your passenger experience.
Optimizing resources, procedures, and staffing to minimize wait times, especially ahead of the EES deployment for airports in Europe, is possible with a passenger flow management system capable of operating in such a dynamic queueing environment.
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