This weeks Whine Wednesday is about the new immigration procedure at Canadian airports since the regular control booths have been replaced by computers where arriving passengers have to scan their own passports.
With the introduction of the machines Canada also stopped to stamp visitors passports in lieu of a printed receipt that will be collected by the customs officer at the exit.
Compared to U.S. ports of entry however Canada doesn’t offer manned control booths at all anymore in the first step of the immigration procedure (there are still officers in their booths for secondary questioning as well as airline crews).
One might ask: Where exactly is the problem with this? Very simple: The problem is that the lack of choice forces every single traveler to use the machines which isn’t exactly easy, especially for people who aren’t technically versed.
So it happened last month when arriving at Vancouver International Airport and another flight arrived before ours. I haven’t used these machines before and it was interesting to watch people interact with the devices – or at least attempt to do so.
What the machine does is basically prompting the traveler to fill in exactly the same information as previously, mostly customs / duty free information. The remaining information was already pulled automatically from the database and the passport scan.
Canada now requires an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) which is coordinated with the data then is then filled into the electronic form. For example the flight number and other data was already included in the form without my input.
It took the people ahead of me forever to get the passport scanned and the control slip printed out. Then you have to stand in another line to have an officer look at it and another line at the customs exit behind the baggage belt.
While this was generally much more civilized than in the U.S. it was definitely less organized and seems rather chaotic. There is some support staff from the airport but they can’t step in to help the people out if they have issues. Even though there are plenty of machines, this is a horrible way of handling the immigration process to send people to the machine and just let them try how it works.