Thousands of travelers across the United States were stranded due to a nationwide U.S. Customs & Border Protection computer outage that hit on Friday, August 16. Computer systems for the agency responsible for border security, including counterterrorism, customs, immigration went down around 3:30 p.m. ET. The problem also impacted flights across the country.
At 6:34 p.m. that evening, CBP stated that computers were slowly coming back online, however, there were reports of continued delays through Saturday morning. International travelers were asked to contact their airlines for updated information.
According to Frequent Business Traveler, the processing system for arriving passengers was down and included the mobile passport app along with the kiosks used for the Global Entry Trusted-Traveler program, requiring customs officers to process individuals one at a time.
The Cause of the Problem is Unknown
It’s unknown what caused the problem. CBP noted that they did not suspect the glitch was malicious in nature but the incident is still under investigation. CNN reported that similar outages occurred in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s affecting random airports,” CBP Spokesperson Steve Bansbach explained. “I’ve had calls that the issue is affecting airports in Calgary, Alberta and at JFK.” WBBM said security guards and customer service representatives at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport were dispatched to help with crowd control.
CBP was using “alternative procedures” to help process international travelers. Passengers reported that things were moving at a snail’s pace as documents were processed manually at most airports.
Rebekah K. Tromble, tweeted a video and mentioned a line she estimated was 5,000 long when she arrived at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.
“Made it out! The next bit of fun was navigating the obstacle course of baggage to find my 3 giant suitcases,” she tweeted later that evening.
Lines continued to move slowly even after CBP’s systems started to come back up but delays continued due to what airport representatives were describing as “residual delays.” CBP officials stated they would “process travelers as quickly as possible while maintaining the highest levels of security.”
Most U.S. Entry Points Reported Delays
There were reports the CBP’s system was down at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, ATL in Atlanta, LAX in Los Angeles, Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, O’Hare and Midway airports in Chicago, San Francisco International Airport, and Philadelphia International Airport.
LAX tweeted that they were deploying Guest Experience Members to help at CBP areas “directing guests and providing other assistance.”
Airports weren’t the only locations reporting problems. Visitors coming to the United States at the US/Canadian entry points tweeted about long wait times that were also attributed to computer problems.
Travelers Used Social Media to Vent Their Frustrations
Frustrated travelers at airports across the U.S. took to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to post photos of the long lines. At some airports, passengers had no access to bathrooms, which were on the other side of the checkpoint area. Some disgruntled passengers said that CPB officers failed to tell anyone what was happening.