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Custom Help at LAX

May 26, 1996

There's relief in store for weary international travelers thanks to new developments at United Airlines and Qantas Airways.

Qantas is slashing customs red tape with what it calls Advanced Passenger Clearance--the first such system in the world, according to a spokesman. Available in the U.S. only at Los Angeles International Airport, it allows passengers bound from Los Angeles to Sydney or Melbourne to clear Australian immigration even before their flight departs.

When a passenger checks in at LAX, the ticket agent scans his or her passport in a Qantas computer, which is linked with Australian and U.S. customs and immigration computers. The agent receives almost instant verification of the passenger's vital statistics. That information is printed out on a card that will scanned upon arrival in Australia, where time spent standing in line is about a minute, a spokesman said. (The norm can be 45 minutes.) However, passengers may still have to wait in line for baggage inspection.

Qantas is also using the program on a limited basis aboard flights returning to LAX, but only for first-class and business-class travelers for now.

Meanwhile, United Airlines this summer will open its own customs-clearance facility, the fourth at the airport. The new 90,000-square-foot underground facility between Terminals 6 and 7, will be able to process up to 700 travelers an hour; it can now take 2 1/2 hours to go through customs checkpoints at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The other two checkpoints are at Terminals 2 and 5.

No one has had it much worse than United passengers, who must deplane via a portable staircase, catch a bus to the Bradley terminal, go through customs and then, if they are connecting to domestic flights, take a shuttle back to the United terminal. The new $51-million facility centralizes the whole process for United passengers, while taking some of the load off the three other immigration and customs centers at the airport.

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