Airport '86

Foreign travel is booming, according to the count of arrivals at Los Angeles International Airport, and with it the wait for arriving passengers clearing immigration formalities is getting longer, but not as long as at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Budget cuts affecting the number of immigration officers are responsible for the delays at both ports of entry, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. At JFK, some passengers have been engaged in the formalities for as long as four hours--double the worst time count at the Los Angeles airport. The Bradley terminal of the Los Angeles airport, which handles the bulk of international arrivals, is at its worst on Thursdays, when 55 foreign flights arrive between 8 a.m. and 11:15 p.m. At peak moments there can be as many as 3,000 incoming passengers clearing immigration and customs at the same time, the INS reports.

At JFK, U.S. citizens move directly to customs, and their passport control takes place in conjunction with baggage clearance. So the long delays are for aliens who must clear immigration first. At LAX, everybody must clear immigration first. That takes an average of 30 to 45 minutes, but, if secondary checks are required because of irregularities in the documents, the process can take two hours. Time for the succeeding customs clearance is running about the same as it did last summer because, unlike INS, there were budget provisions for additional summer workers. For most passengers, unless a baggage search is imposed, the customs check runs 90 seconds, a spokesman for the Customs Service said.

There were 250,544 arrivals in June, compared with 237,686 the same month a year ago and more than double the number in 1977, when the tabulations were initiated. But, despite the rising volume, the INS authorized staff was not been increased this year by Congress, and there is no authority to hire to fill two existing vacancies. Which explains the tarnished hospitality at the airport for Americans coming home and for foreigners getting the first taste of the world's wealthiest nation.

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