Customs Computer Failure Snarls Passengers at U.S. Airports

A nationwide customs service computer failure Friday afternoon left throngs of passengers bottlenecked at airports, waiting to be processed, United States Customs and Border Protection said.

The agency said in a statement that it was experiencing “a temporary outage” at various airports and that it was “taking immediate action to address the technology disruption.”

It said officers were processing international travelers “using alternative procedures until systems are back online.”

“Travelers at some ports of entry are experiencing longer than usual wait times and C.B.P. officers are working to process travelers as quickly as possible while maintaining the highest levels of security,” the statement said.

It was not immediately clear what had prompted the failure or when the system would return to normal but the agency said it had not detected any nefarious causes. The failure was affecting only incoming flights; departing flights were not affected.

Ninis Samuel of Chicago said in a phone interview that he had landed at Kennedy Airport at 3:45 p.m. from Copenhagen, and that he was in line for Global Entry, a program that expedites the security processing of prescreened passengers.

What ordinarily was a five-minute wait had lasted 45 minutes, he said.

“Nothing’s moving,” he said. “I’m standing here with the crew. People are massed here like cattle.”

Of the crowd, he said, “To my horizon line, you wouldn’t believe it,” adding, “I’m sure there are over 1,000 people here right now waiting in line.”

He said in a text message that the airport had made no announcement about the delays: “Nope. Nothing. No info.”

Around 5 p.m., he said he had gotten through Customs because officials were manually processing passengers and he was a participant in Global Entry.

Officers were processing passengers one at a time instead of passengers relying on self-service machines to move through customs.

He said other passengers were most likely looking at a wait of hours.

Passengers from Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle complained on Twitter about the backlog.

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