Skift Take

U.S. airlines and tourism lose money when international visitors have to wait for hours to navigate U.S. customs. There may be some politics at play in U.S. airlines opposition to the preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi, but there certainly are much busier airport gateways to the U.S. that could use similar streamlining.

Arlines for America, the U.S. airline trade group, lashed out at the way U.S. Customs and Border Protection allocates resources considering its goal of speeding the clearance of 90 million passengers who arrive on international flights annually.

In the A4A’s crosshairs is the recent CBP agreement with Abu Dhabi Airport to establish a preclearance facility at the airport.

At a briefing today on its summer travel forecast, A4A displayed a slide showing that Abu Dhabi Airport ranks 80th in average daily passenger arrivals in the U.S., with 573 passengers per day, compared with airports such as London Heathrow, Toronto, and Tokyo Narita, the top 3, with each sending more than 10,000 passengers per day to the U.S.

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Yet, although London Heathrow and Tokyo Narita don’t have a preclearance facility (Toronto does), Abu Dhabi, with direct Etihad Airways service recently announced to Washington Dulles Airport,  is getting a preclearance operation.

Then came the dig at CBP, with the trade group stating: “CBP has a huge opportunity to better align its resources and improve the travel experience for the 90 million airline customers who arrived at U.S. airports in 2012.”

A4A, which represents Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United and US Airways, noted that the average wait time in the U.S. at customs was one hour in 2012, and that maximum wait times, conservatively speaking, were “as high as three hours.”

In a follow-up question from Skift, A4A spokesperson Katie Connell, stated:

“Using U.S. taxpayer dollars and resources, DHS has agreed to the establishment of a preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi that would allow passengers traveling from Abu Dhabi into the U.S. to be pre-cleared for entry into the U.S. by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Abu Dhabi (versus when they arrive in the U.S.) to the benefit of a foreign government and a single foreign airline competitor. Our point/position is pretty simple: customs lines have been and remain an ongoing issue for our customers who are traveling into the U.S. from around the world and continue to wait in exceedingly long and completely unacceptable lines at many of our own U.S. airports.


“DHS needs to focus its resources and U.S. taxpayer’s dollars on fixing the long customs lines our passengers endure here in the U.S. first before considering opening preclearance facilities in other countries, particularly those that are not served by a single U.S. carrier. We have started a campaign, to allow the public to voice their opposition to such an agreement as it negatively impacts the U.S. economy, its travel and tourism, and the global competitiveness of the U.S. airline industry.”

The United Arab Emirates may be an emerging market, but A4A is arguing that the DHS and CBP have their priorities misaligned because there are just not that many passengers traveling today from Abu Dhabi to the U.S.

The A4A is challenging the right of the DHS to enter into such agreements.

In other news, the A4A projects that U.S. airline passenger numbers will hit 208.7 million in the June through August period in 2013, the highest market since 2008, and a 1% increase from 2012. Most of the increase comes from international passengers, with their numbers rising 2.5% to 27.4 million passengers, a new record.

The passenger growth, the A4A says, is driven by a healthier economy, including “improved” financial condition of U.S. airlines.


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Tags: abu dhabi, customs

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