Abu Dhabi Adds US Pre-Clearance Facility

One of the unique features some airports offer is a US customs and immigration pre-clearance facility, whereby all formalities are taken care of before you even board the plane. Then you land in the US the same as a domestic passenger. For example, this is offered in Shannon, Ireland, and is one of the selling points of British Airways’ Club World London City service, which is their all business class A318 service between London City and New York (with a fueling/immigration stop in Shannon). The flight lands in New York as a domestic flight.

Anyway, it looks like a similar facility has now been added for US-bound flights in Abu Dhabi, as a pre-clearance facility opened there yesterday. What makes this interesting is that no US airlines fly to Abu Dhabi, as the only airline offering nonstop service between Abu Dhabi and the US is Etihad.

As someone that has Global Entry I can’t really get too excited about this, since immigration only takes a minute either way. I’m not sure if the new pre-clearance facility has Global Entry kiosks. The facility in Shannon, Ireland does, so I do hope that the one in Abu Dhabi either already has them or will have them soon.

Anyway, it’s something to be aware of, and while I doubt it’ll sway anyone’s travel decisions, on the whole I view it as a positive change.

Interestingly airline unions are giving the new facility a lot of flak, since they view it as a waste of taxpayer dollars. I find it most interesting that of all airlines it’s Southwest speaking out against it:

“Southwest pilots stand together with industry and labor partners to express our dismay at the federal government’s regrettable actions in choosing to open this unnecessary pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi,” said Captain Mark Richardson, SWAPA President.  “We are more than willing to compete against any airline in the world, including state-sponsored Middle East entities.  However, Middle East entities that already enjoy generous state sponsorship should not receive additional government support from the U.S. taxpayer.   We oppose our own government tilting the playing field further against U.S. airlines.”

(Tip of the hat to Mac)

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Interesting they think so since EY/UAE are paying for it. Instead of belly aching they should start serving AUH…

  2. Will be stoppimg by Abu Dhabi this weekend. Route to US after is via FRA and the UA. Does this help me in anyway or will I have the same queing issues in FRA?. Thanks. (Ps Ben – I may be moving part time to Tampa so may pick your brians on what its like to live there).

  3. “For example, this is offered in Shannon, Ireland, and is one of the selling points of British Airways’ Club World London City service, which is their all business class A318 service between London City and New York (with a fueling/immigration stop in Shannon). The flight lands in New York as a domestic flight.”

    I believe that – unfortunately – only the earlier of the two LCY-JFK is now able to take advantage of preclearance and the later flight actually arrives at JFK as an international flight.

  4. Uh, why would someone flying from London want to stop in Shannon just to get U.S. preclearance? Certainly the stop in Shannon takes a lot more time than going through immigration upon arrival (and there are plenty of direct flights from the U.S. to London!

  5. US airlines aren’t giving it flak because they think it’s a waste (even if they claim that’s the reason)–they don’t like it because it makes it more appealing to fly Etihad. In actuality, this saves taxpayer dollars because Abu Dhabi is paying 85% of the costs to operate the facility, so the US only pays for 15% of the cost (compared to 100% of the cost of customs officials it pays for in the US).

  6. @Chris: The BA flights from London to JFK that stop in Shannon depart from LCY (London City Airport), which is mere minutes from the financial district (City of London). They’re on A318’s in an all-business configuration, so the SNN stop is necessary westbound for the aircraft to be able to make the crossing, but the time and hassle saved in avoiding LHR (transport time plus more time for security and boarding a 744 or 777) makes up for the technical stop. Roughly, BA1 takes 9h45, including the stop in Ireland. LHR-JFK takes about 8h. From the City to LHR is about an hour by car vs. maybe 15 minutes to LCY. Throw in at least 30 minutes more leeway on security, and things are looking good for LCY. If you can pre-clear immigration at SNN instead of JFK, it’s totally a win.

  7. The irony is that Etihad really didn’t want this facility but it was forced upon them politically by their government. From an operational standpoint, pre-clearance is a nightmare for a non-US carrier who relies primarily on connecting traffic through their hub and limited onward connections at US gateway. The minimum connecting times at your hub have to be increased to enable pre-clearance and your presentation profile is not a smooth flow (as passengers are mainly arriving on connecting flights). This inefficiency is not clawed back at the other end since the passengers are for the most part not system-captive at that point. It basically reduces your potential aircraft utility and system flexibility as a result.

    Etihad have trying to reduce this problem by hiring away a very respected senior scheduling manager from Air Canada recently who has huge experience with scheduling around pre-clearance challenges, but that will only mitigate the issue rather than solve it.

    Bottom line is that this is a marketing gimmick that actually increases Etihad’s costs rather than giving them any real advantage. But I wouldn’t expect SWA pilots to even begin to understand that! 🙂

  8. I think for non-US citizens it’s a win-win but for US citizens who have checked luggage, I doubt it will make that much of a difference at JFK.

  9. this makes sense in Canada where you have flights leaving out of a major city (toronto) to a lot of small US cities (syracuse, providence, white plains – most gone unfortunately) that it would be impractical to set up CBP facilities. Ireland used to be a technical stop for a lot of planes from eastern Europe, and during the cold war, the US wanted to prescreen flights. similar to the lcy JFK ba flight, preclearance makes sense if you need to refuel. from Abu Dhabi, I am a little confused as to why this makes sense.

  10. I was under the impression that Dublin also offered US pre-clearance?

    Etihad’s CEO has been talking about this for a while. The Middle East Big Three are all vying for supremacy on US routes so this could sway many travellers!

  11. Other than Canada (which has flights to many US airports without CBP facilities), these preclearance setups are wasteful.

    What is the source for the cost sharing arrangement described in earlier comments?

    Talking to several US officers at preclearance facilities, it sounds like these are very expensive for the government to staff and operate.

  12. Would be nice if the author could research for us and list all the cities/airports worldwide that offered this pre-clearance, if it extends beyond Abu Dhabi and Shannon.

  13. Sweet. Looking forward to this in a few weeks when I fly AUH-IAD for my return Maldives trip. Wonder if the arriving flight at AUH will require rescreening to connect to onward flights or if it’s more like Canadian arrivals in the US and will just allow you to enter the passenger terminal directly without additional security screening.

  14. They made me throw away my scotch that I had bought at the Abu Dhabi duty free since liquids are not allowed on “domestic” flights.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *