The European press reports that the Department of Homeland Security has approached several European countries about opening pre-clearance facilities for flights to the U.S. This would be great news for U.S. residents returning from European trips.
In case you haven’t experienced it, preclearance means that you pass through U.S. Customs, Immigra-tion, and TSA security screening in the country where your flight originates rather than upon arrival in the U.S. The big advantage is that the preclearance happens at your departure airport, where you have to arrive hours before your flight, anyway. Your arrival back in the U.S. is like a domestic arrival: No lines, no hassles; just grab your baggage and go. As a secondary advantage, travelers not welcome in the U.S. learn about that before they’re flown for many hours, rather than on arrival—where they are forced to wait for a return flight.
U.S. residents have had airport preclearance for years at Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto/Pearson, Vancouver, and Winnipeg in Canada, plus Aruba, Bermuda, Freeport, and Nassau in the nearby islands and Dublin and Shannon in Ireland. It works well and seems to please everybody. Recently, Abu Dhabi applied for a preclearance facility, but that proposal faces political opposition be-cause the only airline that would benefit is Abu Dhabi’s airline, Etihad.
The new overture targets the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. So far, it appears that only the Brits are showing real interest; the others are looking at the question. But that’s all right; London is by far the most important European gateway for transatlantic flights to the U.S. Preclearance at Heathrow would make life a lot easier for anyone traveling from London to the U.S. A subsidiary benefit of preclearance is that airlines could fly from London nonstop to U.S. cities that currently lack the required Customs and Immigration facilities.
All in all, preclearance is a win for everyone involved. The main question is why it has taken so long for someone to make the proposal. Let’s hope the current deal moves forward quickly!