Computer Outage at Customs and Border Protections Leads to Major Delays for Air Travelers

by Barbara Peterson
Computer Outage at Customs and Border Protections Leads to Major Delays for Air Travelers

Photo: Shutterstock


It was not a happy new year for thousands of international travelers arriving at major U.S. airports on the first day of 2018, when a computer glitch temporarily snarled the clearance process at Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints, causing long lines and delays in processing arrivals.

The cause of the outage has yet to be explained. But in a tweet Monday night the CBP said that there was “no indication the disruption was malicious in nature.”

“All airports are back on line after a temporary outage of CBP’s processing systems,” the agency said in a statement. “During the disruption, CBP had access to national security-related databases and all travelers were screened according to security standards.”

Still, it was the second time an outage had roiled air travel during the peak holiday season: on Dec. 20, a blackout at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport knocked out power to the world’s busiest airport and disrupted air travel throughout the country for days. A fire at a local power station was to blame, but the lack of a functioning back-up system has raised broader concerns about the vulnerability of the nation’s aviation system to such events.

During the CBP outage, the system didn’t completely grind to a halt. While self-service kiosks were knocked out, and the standard technology couldn’t distinguish among U.S. citizens and foreign visitors, Customs agents could process passengers using alternative procedures.  Among the airports affected were Atlanta Hartsfield, Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, and Miami airports. 

At many checkpoints, passengers reported waiting on line for hours, with little information available on the situation or how long it would take for them to be cleared.

As of Tuesday morning the system was back up and running normally at all stations, the CBP said.

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