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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pssst. Mobile Passport is the best-kept secret in air travel.

Skip the hassle of Global Entry applications and use this free Customs and Border Protection app instead

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

This story has been updated.

After a long-haul flight home from abroad, it is soul-crushing to see a long, snaking line to get through customs when you land at an American airport. If you’re lucky, maybe it moves quickly. If you’re smart, you have Mobile Passport Control downloaded on your phone.

I should not be telling you about Mobile Passport. The app is a gift for frequent and infrequent fliers alike. Telling more people about it will mean more people using the line-cutting service. But I’m a fool and telling you anyway.

Although not new, Mobile Passport is still under the radar for many Americans traveling internationally. The service gives U.S. and Canadian citizens access to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection express lane, getting you through to baggage claim in minutes. All you have to do is input your passport information, take a selfie and answer the same questions you’d encounter at the standard customs kiosk.

The app, originally developed by Airside Mobile, was taken over by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2022. If customers have the old app, they’ll need to download the new version to access the service.

The service is still fast, free and exists thanks to a guy named Hans Miller.

Even if you’ve never met him, there’s a strong chance that Miller has changed your life — or at least the way you travel. After 9/11, Miller was asked to help build a new government agency called the Transportation Security Administration. About 12 years ago, Miller and his business partner Adam Tsao evolved airports again by implementing mobile boarding passes. And in 2009, Miller and Tsao brought yet another idea to the government: Mobile Passport Control (MPC).

Miller and Tsao were on a mission to eliminate lines at the airport, whether you’re coming or going. Mobile boarding passes cut out the need to wait in line for the check-in counter or kiosk. But what about the long lines of people languishing at customs? Global Entry had tried to tackle the issue, but it wasn’t perfect.

“The problem with Global Entry was that you had to make an appointment, go through an interview,” Miller said in 2019. “It was a lot of work to get accepted into the program. [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] had announced they were looking for new ideas.”

What happens if TSA finds weed in my bag?

For Miller and Tsao, it was an obvious opportunity. With blessings from CBP, the Airports Council International for North America and Boeing — and without government funding — Mobile Passport launched in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport in 2014. It’s since officially become U.S. Government CBP Mobile Passport Control (MPC) and expanded to more than 30 locations with over 7 million members.

Travelers can download Mobile Passport in the Apple App store and Google Play. There are no interviews and no long forms to slow you down. Once you download the app, you can complete the process in minutes. Even if you forgot and are walking off the plane toward a long line of doom, you can still download the app and jump the queue.

Mobile Passport lets you be your own hero. And yet, it’s still not a must-download for most travelers. I have yet to encounter a Mobile Passport line more than a few people long in my dozens of experiences. It’s not because I’m lucky, either.

“I find almost no one ever in the Mobile Passport lane,” says James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel.

It’s been used more than 12 million times since its creation, a tiny number compared to how many people fly annually. In 2019 alone, more than 4.5 billion people flew, according to data from the International Civil Aviation Organization.

I may regret telling you people about Mobile Passport, but the world will be a better place if we can all spend less time waiting in lines at airports.