US Seeks Ten New Pre-Clearance Airports


Will the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse soon be off-limits to US_bound passengers?

The US Government is looking to significantly expands its immigration & customs pre-clearance footprint, adding ten new airports in nine countries to the Customs & Border Patrol (“CBP”) program. CPB has 15 pre-clearance stations in 6 countries today. Eight of the new target airports are in Europe with one each in the Caribbean and Asia. These 10 stations are not done yet; the news is just that the US Government is entering negotiations to make it happen, but the 10 selected airports were part of a group of 25+ which applied to be considered for such.

The European airports targeted for CBP Pre-Clearance facilities (Tokyo-Narita and Punta Cana, DR are also on the list
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

The US CPB says that Pre-Clearance handles 16 million passengers last year and that 20 million arrived in the US from the 10 airports targeted for the program. Adding all 10 could significantly reduce passenger wait times, especially for arriving foreign nationals. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, in a statement, sees all positives from the move:

Preclearance is a win-win for the traveling public. It provides aviation and homeland security, and it reduces wait times upon arrival at the busiest U.S. airports.

Adding pre-clearance means passengers arrive the same as domestic flights, easing connections and the overall arrival experience in general. It also means that the departures experience is a bit different. Depending on the airport the facilities for departing passengers can be limited relative to those traveling to non-US destinations from the same airport.

Will the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse soon be off-limits to US_bound passengers?
Will the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse soon be off-limits to US-bound passengers?

Most commonly this materializes in lounge facilities which are not available or are not as nice after the pre-clearance check because of reduced passenger usage in that limited area. In Heathrow, Narita and Madrid especially there are US-bound flights operating from multiple terminals today. Getting all of the passengers from these flights to a common departure point would be quite a challenge, especially for connections while still meeting various passenger experience goals. It is unlikely that Virgin Atlantic or British Airways are going to want to rebuild lounges inside a dedicated pre-clearance terminal at Heathrow, for example, though Virgin Atlantic has such a density of flights to and from the USA now that it might not be such a problem. Then again, where there is sufficient traffic (i.e. Canadian trans-border terminals) there are often decent passenger facilities.

It is also worth noting that, as of today, there is only one US flight to Istanbul and that is seasonal summer service from Delta. The Pre-Clearance facility in Ataturk would be used almost exclusively by passengers on Turkish Airlines; a similar facility in Abu Dhabi saw significant opposition because it serves no US airlines. And the operations at that station have been less than stellar based on many passenger reports. But, overall, the program mostly works very well most of the time.

 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

17 Comments

  1. I don’t think a pre-clearance facility at Heathrow is feasible whatsoever. Flights to the US are scattered all over the place and there isn’t any extra room to move flights around.

  2. U.S. CBP Preclearance at European mainland airports with multiple daily flights to the U.S.? No thank you, for this pursuit by the US is not being done to improve passenger experiences; rather it is being done merely because of security-related paranoia about VWP-using nationals and fraudulent document use by the same or others.

    This will make for worse travel experiences and mean more money is being spent to shift the processing overseas instead of in the U.S. for Europe-US flights. No thank you.

    This will make for worse travel experiences, as the variance in passport control processing times will increase and as the check-in cut-off times are made more customer-unfriendly than is already the case for US-bound flights from European airports.

  3. Just because an airport has CBP Preclearance doesn’t mean all flights from that airport will necessarily be forced to use it — that could be the case for LHR, but don’t be surprised if during the governmental extra-heightened-paranoia periods that the U.S. cracks down and gives priority to allowing in CBP-Preclearance flights and messes up and around other (i.e., non-CBP Preclearance-using) flights/passengers from the same airport going to the U.S.

  4. This doesn’t mean airlines *require* to relocate separate lounges for its preclearance flights. In Dublin, the preclearance area after security and immigration is a relatively small area with few amenities and restaurants, but premium passengers use the facilities before preclearance and only head to US customs and security upon announcements. I’m sure it’ll be no different in the airports listed where certain gates will be re-assigned and dedicated for US flights. It’s not necessarily the most convenient procedure, but in most cases, this works.

  5. My experience with pre clearance in Dublin was chaos leading to a delayed flight as we waited for those stuck in the process to clear through. There’s essentially nothing past pre clearance and it took close to 45 minutes as a premium passenger to get through.

    The benefit is you don’t have to undergo that messed up process after a 6+ hour flight when you’re tired and cranky.

  6. For those complaining about the cost, I believe the airports have to foot the bill to operate the pre-clearance facilities, so these actually save the U.S. government money.

    There are some airports where US-bound flights are already segregated for security reasons (e.g. the Z gates at Frankfurt) so introducing a pre-clearance facility shouldn’t be a big hassle. At LHR, BA could potentially renovate the T5B or T5C satellite to include a pre-clearance facility or incorporate it into the eventual construction of T5D.

    As Seth mentioned, these work well and have decent facilities in Canada, so it’s all about implementation.

  7. This is ridiculous. Consider if every stupid paranoid country started demanding such treatment. Enough with the bullshit security theater and American hegemony – why should foreigners pay for our immigration controls?

  8. I understand some of the pre-clearance facilities have Global Entry kiosks, but all require a second security screening and none have TSA Pre-Check. So, for people with GE or who otherwise tend to get Pre-Check, pre-clearance facilities are a pain.

  9. @Randy – not familiar with all pre-clearances, but at YYZ, I only go through a single security screening. I typically take early morning flights, and with GE, I’m usually US-side, re-shod, about 15 minutes after I’m dropped off at the curb.

  10. @JEM, yes, I forgot that in Canada there is only the one security screening. But, crucially, it does not have TSA Pre-Check, so those of us who have Global Entry get the standard security screening (shoes off, laptops out, liquids out) rather than Pre-Check. Personally, I’d much rather clear immigration/customs in the U.S. and get Pre-Check when I clear security.

  11. Pre-Clearance is an absurd idea, that has been a disaster in practice, and threatens to bring additional traveling discomfort to all US bound passengers. To see how Pre-Clearance has harmed every single US bound passenger flying through Abu Dhabi — where a number approaching 0% of flights leave on time and where two hour delays are now assumed into schedules — is to learn the CBP’s real motivation for this program, which is to expand its jurisdiction and budget, and provide opportunities for its agents to work in exotic overseas locations with all expenses paid (and paid by you!).

  12. Mak: Abu Dhabi does not work well for a variety of reasons…not the least of which is that many of the locals have names that will ring bells for terror suspects and no-fly lists…try security vetting Mohammed Mohammed born in 00/00/1965.
    Language barriers. Not many CBP Officers there speak the native language(s).
    Photos and fingerprints. Unlike PC in Canada…virtually everyone has to have their photo and fingerprints taken in Abu Dhabi. Americans and Canadian visitors are exempt from photo AND fingerprint requirements.Figure a half minute a person time savings. 200 on flight…over 1.5 HOURS saved…spread over 10 Officers…about 20-30 minute savings. Significant.
    And scheduling all flights to leave at same time? Idiotic. Spread them out .
    Same problem we have with European arrivals. In Orlando all the European flights arrive between 3pm and 7pm…no matter how many extra flights they add or how full the planes are. And then they wonder why the lines back up. SMH
    Unfortunately…CBP does not dictate what flights come when…or how many…they just try and staff accordinly with what manpower and funding is available. Sometimes it is just not enough.

  13. @Mak: You can’t condemn the entire program just because it sucks at one airport. PC works well in Canada, OK in Ireland, and poorly in Aub Dhabi. Clearly the issue (as with so many things) is the implementation, not the concept.

    1. @ Arcanum, considering that AUH is the most recent addition and the worst in practice, why would you assume that new facilities would be better?

  14. @Randy: I suppose in theory each new site should learn from the experience of the previous ones, so things should get easier/better over time. In the case of Abu Dhabi, however, I think there are some particular challenges as L Cavendish discussed above which are different from those in Canada, Bermuda, etc.

    I also think there are some cultural issues that come into play in the UAE. There’s an interesting documentary about Dubai airport (Ultimate Airport Dubai or something if I remember) on YouTube that’s worth a watch if you’re into airports. Suffice it to say, I think projects are a bit more organized/well-run in Europe and North America than in the Middle East.

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