Brussels Airport Will Get US Pre-Clearance Facility

Filed Under: Brussels

Brussels Airport is expected to get a US Pre-Clearance facility, which would make it the third European airport to get one, after Dublin and Shannon.

Brussels Airport getting US Pre-Clearance

The Brussels Times reports that Brussels’ Finance Minister, Alexander De Croo, has revealed that Brussels Airport will be getting a US Pre-Clearance facility. While the exact timeline hasn’t yet been revealed, the plan is that 30 US Customs & Border Protection agents will be stationed at Brussels Airport to carry out checks for US-bound passengers.

The concept of a US Pre-Clearance facility in Brussels was first discussed in 2017, so this has been a long time in the making.

Ihsane Chioua Lekhli, a spokesperson for Brussels Airport, said the following:

“The work is only now beginning. We are now going to work with the airlines and other partners to see what the impact will be on operations and costs, and how we can organise everything practically.”

While the government is making it sound like this is a sure thing, it remains to be seen if that’s actually the case. Over the years we’ve seen a countless number of governments claim that one of these facilities was in the pipeline for their airports (from Bogota to Dubai to Jeddah to Tokyo), only for things not to materialize.

Several years back the plan was for a third of US-bound travelers to go through Pre-Clearance facilities by 2024, though not much progress has been made in that regard.

Brussels Airlines Airbus A330

What exactly is a US Pre-Clearance facility?

For those of you not familiar with US Pre-Clearance facilities, the way this works is that US-bound air passengers clear immigration prior to boarding their flight to the United States.

As someone with Global Entry I selfishly don’t love the concept, since immigration on arrival takes me a few minutes at most. However, I understand the concept in theory:

  • Some US airports have long immigration wait times, so this could reduce some of the burden on US immigration facilities
  • It’s a way of screening high risk passengers before they board flights to the US, which in theory makes more sense than screening them upon arrival
  • The US is one of the few countries in the world without a sterile international transit facility; this means you have to clear US immigration even if you’re only making an international-to-international connection in the US (almost all other countries allow passengers connecting internationally to stay in transit without clearing immigration)

Airports seem to view these facilities as a competitive advantage, marketing it as a way to have a more seamless trip. However, in reality these facilities can often lead to flight delays. If someone needs to go into secondary inspection, then either the plane will be delayed for them or their bags will be offloaded, both of which can be time consuming.

Dublin Airport US Pre-Clearance facility

Bottom line

Brussels Airport is supposed to get a US Pre-Clearance facility, meaning that US-bound passengers would clear immigration prior to boarding their flight.

These facilities are controversial — on the one hand they’re not very convenient for those with Global Entry, and can sometimes lead to flight delays, while on the other hand it sure is nice to get immigration formalities out of the way at the beginning of your trip, so you don’t have to dread dealing with it upon arrival.

Brussels would be only the third European airport to get such a facility, so let’s see what ends up happening here…

What do you make of the prospect of a US Pre-Clearance facility at Brussels Airport?

  1. “The US is one of the few countries in the world without a sterile international transit facility”

    It would interesting if you show US traffic broken down by O&D and Connecting. I’m guessing most traffic is O&D. If that is the case then investing in sterile transit wouldn’t make sense financially. However, it would be nice to have.

  2. @Jack- Why would anyone bother to connect in the US when easier options exist? Adding sterile transit would surely unlock some latent demand (pandemic notwithstanding). I’m surprised the US3 haven’t lobbied more strongly for their hubs to be configured to support this. One *could* argue that continental geography puts North America at a relative disadvantage. But Canada has sterile transit, which is a boon for AC to poach US-based budget travelers.

  3. Thats very nice! Usually I fly from Europe to the States via Dublin to use the facility – its just super convenient. When you are already clearing immigration before boarding you will be able to enjoy your flight much more without the worry of long queues or quizzy immigration officers upon landing.

    Definitely a advantage for Brussels!

  4. I think it is time we all collectively come to the understanding that air travel in the United States is fundamentally different than most of the rest of the world. If you were to look at how it is set up in the states, it is more akin to what rail travel is like in Europe, especially within the Schengen-zone. Because, most of the travelers are just moving around within the borders of the US, the airlines and airports are economically incentivized to create services that meet that demand. The biggest case in point is lounges. If most of the visits are from everyday domestic travelers paying $300-500 per ticket where margins are already razor thin, why would the airlines create a lounge experience that matches what other airlines do internationally for high-paying international air fares. The same could be said about creating a sterile transit experience. The demand is just not there to spend the money redesigning airports to have this functionality when the bulk of the travel doesn’t require it.

    All of this is not to say that these things shouldn’t exist. It is just always going to be a pipe dream as we are grounded in the reality of how travel is done in in the United States vs the rest of the world.

  5. @ ah,
    In normal times there are a few. On the other hand it makes BRU for other Carriers intresting for transiting passengers and clear customs before heading to the US just like many do at Dublin and Shannon.

  6. In prior times I viewed BRU, CDG and AMS as almost interchangeable in that if I could get a deep discount ticket to one of them, I could travel by rail cheaply to any of the others. Pre-clearance would definitely have me favor BRU. On the other hand, it is likely to be a long time before I travel TATL again.

  7. Pre Clearance is pretty much only good once you step off the plane. At least in Dublin, the terminal is cramped and dark and a miserable experience. Maybe if Brussels could figure out a better terminal configuration, it could be more pleasant. The Candian transborder experience is a notch better, but still not great.

    The only two places I think a sterile transit facility would make sense in the US would be Atlanta or Miami. Those are the only airports where Europe to South America (really the only routing where transit would make sense) traffic passes nearly overhead or not too far away. However there are plenty of direct options already, and I’m not sure it would really be worth the investment. I dont believe the amount of traffic from Asia to South America would warrant one on the west coast either.

  8. This would be the perfect way to get to the UK and Scotland cheaper without paying the outrageous Heathrow passenger taxes. Remember, Brussels has a Eurostar chunnel train station, and it’s only 2 hours to downtown London (St. Pancreas). Fares are as cheap as $70.00 one way. Also, leaving Brussels on a pre-cleared U.S. flight means the aircraft can arrive at a domestic U.S. terminal, making internal U.S. connections much easier. (Yes, Ben, I have Global Entry, but this would be even quicker!). However, I do agree with Linda that Amsterdam would be a better choice for connections, but I hated my last trip through there due to the long lines exiting the Schengen zone. Amsterdam does have Eurostar service to London, but it takes longer. If Brussels can pull this off and get U.S. airlines to add service / routes, this would be a big, big win for them.

  9. @Marky Mark I too have a hard time “digesting” the UK APD. Perhaps I’ll take the train to St. ‘Pancreas’ as well.

  10. BRU does indeed have few flights to the US in ‘normal times’.

    Nonetheless this could be very interesting combined with the fact that Lufthansa made a deal with the Belgian government regarding Brussels Airlines (the name has to be kept!)

    Article(in Dutch sorry):

    Would Lufthansa maybe look at making BRU a big star hub with US-bound flights and combine this with the strong African connections Brussels Airlines?

    Time will tell, interesting space to watch for sure!

  11. Seems like a second-tier US airport with space to spare that wanted a competitive advantage and more Europe and Latin America flights would work out a way to build a sterile transit area, and persuade carriers to use it as essentially a scissor hub. Think: MCI, BWI, PHX, RDU, etc.

    You’d think especially former hubs like PIT, CVG, and STL would adopt this strategy.

    I’m sure this would require cooperation with Congress and DHS but it’s not impossible.

  12. The last time I flew out of BRU to the U.S. I arrived three and a half hours early and waited two hours for exit immigration alone, having to run to catch my flight. Upon arrival, with Global Entry, immigration and customs tacked on maybe five minutes. Years ago this would have meant something..but sorry to say that BRU is a bottlenecked facility and adding another bottleneck isn’t going to help it.

  13. As someone with GE who frequently has to use pre-clearance coming home from Canada (and who often makes a connection in the US doing so), I don’t find this program to be of any benefit. If a flight gets delayed, you are stuck in the backwaters of a foreign airport with limited lounge, shop, and food options.

    My bigger issue is the imperialistic implications. These foreign governments are caving to U.S. demands and are allowing U.S. law enforcement to operate on their sovereign territory to enforce U.S. laws. There have been countless stories of Canadians caught in legal limbo in a Canadian airport who comply with Canadian law but don’t meet U.S. law(s), and they can’t just leave and go back home. I wonder what the opinions are of the general populations in those countries where the U.S. has instilled Pre-Clearance on them? In my opinion, its all post 9/11 security “mission creep” by DHS.

  14. Preclearance is awful, in my experience. It means you need to get to the airport a lot earlier and it means that short connections at the foreign airport are no longer doable. As mentioned by Lucky, it increases the risk of delays. In some places where I’ve seen it, you have to go through security multiple times and mess with your baggage once you’ve already checked it in. A big waste of time that adds a lot of uncertainty.

    Then there’s the cost of now having to base government bureaucrats (ICE agents) abroad and pay them extra to work in European cities. In addition to the inefficiencies mentioned above, this adds cost as well.

  15. Agree with Ryan and D.A. above about the dubious benefits of Preclearance. It was a defensible, perhaps even good, idea in the old days when it was limited to Canada and the Caribbean since it meant people could fly more nonstop routings and/or easier US connections.

    I also question the practical applications of a European facility since the majority of flights are banked for the earlier/morning hours which means connections are going to be difficult given the longer processing time. I’ll cry if MUC or VIE ever consider adding this “enhancement.”

  16. most non-Canadian pre-clearance experiences are miserable as hell. So far I’ve tried just YVR YYZ YUL AUA DUB AUH.

    AUA was okay.

    My golly DUB and AUH were such depressing waiting rooms with close to zero concessions offerings. AUH was worse because the EY lounge dragons won’t tell you how long the line is other than go super duper ultra early.

    AC at least has decent MLL at transborder locations so it’s more tolerable.Hate to see BRU become yet another DUB/AUH.

  17. I can tell which of the commenters with GE have never had an international-to-domestic connection in ORD with checked bags.

  18. This is great news for the thousands of flights going from Belgium to the US a week, especially since most Americans use Brussels, rather than CDG, LHR, AMS, Frankfurt or Zurich as their hub.

  19. To the Eurostar connector hypothesizor above. try it. It doesn’t work well. You’d have to clear immigration once at St. pancris. Then, it’s a three hour, not two hour, train ride. Then, you’d have to go from gare midi to the airport in Brussels. And the Eurostar does incur significant delays. It’s hard to pull off conveniently.

  20. I hope this does not go through. It’s amazing that a country can do its borders controls in another country. What makes the USA so special that countries allow this imposition of border controls on its territory. If it was reciprocal, stationing Belgian agents in the USA, I might support it.

  21. Now if only AMS and LHR would get such facilities. That would make a huge difference. Understandably that would be a very large investment in facilities (either a new separate terminal (for LHR) or another concourse (AMS) for either airport but would make the travel experience much more seamless and easy, especially for U.S. connections.

  22. I think you’re telling things a little bit wrong here?
    The baggage of those passengers going through immigration, have to identify the baggage on the screen and only if they do and get through immigration and be cleared the baggage is clear to beat up to be loaded on the plane, at least that’s how I experienced it in several of those US-Pre Clearance Immigration points, so NO delay because of any need to offload and search for baggage of non cleared passengers.
    Had the same procedure in Nassau, Bahamas, Abu Dhabi, UAE as well as Winnipeg, CAN.

  23. All this talk of Sterile Transfer in the US? We had this prior to 9/11after which it became forbidden. Miami was a buzzing hub with sterile transfers back in the day. When it was removed the Latin & Caribbean Airlines just added new capacity and Miami lost the business.

  24. Mildly put I find this very concerning, another state exercising its full power on the territory of another state.
    The US once again is acting like a big bully who claims to have special rights that stand above everyone else. There is only one other state that does something similar: China has a border checkpoint in Hong Kong at the new high-speed railway station. And there were massive protests by Hongkongers against this.

    If every country would act according to US logic, there would be 200+ different foreign border checkpoints at every international airport. Does this make any sense? Do we really want that?

  25. @ Max,
    I really don’t see it that way. I am sure there always have been second tier airports clamoring to join this club as it brings increased business. This is somewhat akin to Global Entry, apply to get it or ignore it, there is no bully here. Having USA clearance encourages passengers to travel from that airport as well as encouraging new fifth freedom flights.

    In a similar vein, There was a comment by a Max referring to masks, suggesting the choice of using them or not. the problem is, masks primarily benefit those around the mask user and in turn all of us wear masks to help each other.

  26. My priority is to arrive and get on my way ASAP. I prefer to be inconvenienced before my departure, not after my arrival, and my preference curve is so asymmetric that I would rather wait 1 hour in a preclearance line + face a multi-hour delay in a preclearance terminal with no lounge, than wait 5 minutes for a global entry kiosk on arrival in the US.

  27. @ak: Eurostar from London to Brussels is less than two hours.

    @Max and others: On the Eurostar, France does border control in London, UK does border control in Lille, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam (soon) and a few other places. Juxtaposed controls also exist for cross channel ferry services.

  28. @Max this is very similar to how the Eurostar operates with juxtaposed border checkpoints in the UK and France

  29. Just mentioning, during January I arrived at JFK Terminal 1 on LH. The line to US Immigration was backed up all the way to the aircraft. We were aware of Covid and felt ourselves to be in danger. Although Global Entry worked wonders there was no concept of social distancing and some pax waited hours. This surely males preclearance a no brainer.

  30. @Donato in fairness to US Immigration, social distancing was not a concept in the US in January.

  31. Pre clearance is NOT better than going through customs in the US. I’ve flown many international trips that ended with clearing customs in the US. Never an issue and usually a reasonable wait.

    The Dublin Pre Clearance is a joke. Perhaps others are better. In Dublin, all US bound flights are relegated to a terminal with very few food/drink options and the terminal is so packed that it can’t accommodate the number of travelers. There’s barely any room to walk through the terminal because people end up sitting/standing in walkways due to lack of space.

    The most maddening part is you have to clear Dublin airport security WITH THE SAME U.S. RESTRICTIONS on goods/luggage/etc with the same protocols as TSA. Then you have the pleasure of waiting in yet another line to do the SAME EXACT thing for US pre-clearance, only there is no TSA precheck and Global Entry was only available after you cleared the secondary luggage screening. Finally, after clearing luggage screening for a second time, you get to wait in another long line to have face to face with CBP. It certainly is not seamless and I cannot imagine a scenario where that saves me more time than being processed once stateside.

    I’ll actively avoid airports with US Pre Clearance when I’m able. Perhaps others are better, but one experience from Dub is all it took to make me steer clear.

  32. For everyone complaining about sovereignty – what’s to stop the Belgian government from saying no to this if they want to? Answer – nothing. They’re free to decline to allow the US to set up a preclearance facility. They apparently don’t share your concerns.

  33. Certainly in Ireland CBP agents don’t carry guns and nor do they have the power to arrest people – including US citizens – for crimes someone may have done in the US.

    The most they can do is refuse the person entry into the US.

    Even once you have passed the pre clearance officers you are still not in the USA you remain under Irish jurisdiction. You only legally enter the US when you land on US soil.

    Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels Midi take a tad over 2 hours and no where near 3 hours. And that is easily checked on the Eurostar website so why post wrong and misleading info?

    And there are no ‘outrageous’ Heathrow taxes. There is UK APD which is starndard through the UK (some airports are exempt from it and there are ways to minimise it if you are prepared for a little extra work. And airline surcharges aren’t taxes.

  34. Returning to the topic of sterile transit in the US… It’d be a relief for travellers between South America and Asia/Australia. There aren’t many ways for Aussies to visit, say, Argentina without enduring the horrors of Dallas or Houston customs.

  35. Seriously selfish of you to say this is not a great thing. Shame on you. This is GREAT thing and should be expanded significantly. It’s by far better for everyone involved. Better for ALL passengers involved. Think of the security aspects. Think of the connecting passengers not needting to deal with THREE lines (immigration, customs, then security all over again). Suck it up and wait in line for all of 2-3 minutes to be pre-cleared and not have to deal with all that mess on the return. This for certain ensures that people will actually make connections versus missing them. I’ve seen that all to often in Miami.

    I love your blog, but your lack of love for pre-clearance facilities and down-talking of them is truly shameful.

  36. The UK Border Force has already “pre-clearance” agents in Belgium, in the Eurostar terminal in the Brussels Zuid/Midi train station.

  37. i’m a global entry member and I still prefer pre-clearance; the fact that you can arrive as a domestic passenger, just get your bags and go is amazing, even though you have no line as a GE member…

  38. “This is great news for the thousands of flights going from Belgium to the US a week, especially since most Americans use Brussels, rather than CDG, LHR, AMS, Frankfurt or Zurich as their hub.”

    Loved this comment so much!

    Long-haul flights out of BRU were already lousy pre-COVID, one can’t expect that having this facility would make the experience any more pleasant. Then again, the Belgians historically have done whatever possible to make a potentially pleasant experience unpleasant — so this would be entirely consistent and even rational 🙂

  39. @ Jason
    I had Covid19 concerns in mid January. It wasn’t called covid19 and I did not use the term “social distancing’ but a crowd felt wrong. I hold a license as a health care provider and the training kicked in.

  40. @Josh
    “There aren’t many ways for Aussies to visit, say, Argentina without enduring the horrors of Dallas or Houston customs.”

    As a European who tries to avoid transit through the US, I’ve used two very nice routes that do exactly what you want:
    — Qantas flies Sydney-Santiago de Chile;
    — Air New Zealand flies Auckland-Buenos Aires.

    Santiago is pretty efficient and reasonably relaxed, with good onward connections. Buenos Aires is completely unpredictable (but still usually better than, say, Miami). Both of them involve much faster routes from Australia to South America than going all the way up to the northern hemisphere, then all the way back south.

    Others have corrected your just plain wrong assertions about European states with border controls on other territory (eg, the U.K. reciprocates with France, Belgium and (soon) the Netherlands), but it’s elsewhere, too: Uruguay has immigration officials operating in Buenos Aires (check out the Buquebus terminal), and vice versa in Montevideo. It’s much more common than you seem to think.

    I’ve only experienced US pre-clearance in Shannon, on BA’s brilliant LCY-JFK flight (will that ever return?), and for non-US passport-holders it removes masses of uncertainty and —potentially — hours of delays. I love it, and route that way whenever it’s convenient. I think many of you underestimate just how miserable US entry procedures can be for non-US passport-holders. Though I accept it may offer few advantages to US passport-holders.

    Having written that, BRU is fairly crappy and it wouldn’t be high on my list of preferred airports.

  41. USA will eventually incorporate Canada, Mexico, and all the way to Argentina.

    The idea behind pre-clearance is more of a sign of peace, because we may not be able to physically always check that you’re not doing something bad in some sea somewhere.

    We will see this for Australia and New Zealand. COVID19 outbreak almost wiped the entire population away, so they’re going to have… Singapore, Denpasar, and Auckland and Los Angeles. Then Tokyo. Everyone else can O&D.

    Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha will lose the right to be Australia hubs. And rightfully so. I heard that partly the reason why Singapore seems to have high migrant infections, is because the foreign worrkers in those 3 cities are seeing that nobody cares about COVID19. And that Al Baker is leading Qatar Airways and Qatar past the point of no return.

    Watch EK EY QR announce return of services. 7 to 10 days later, confirm new infection. India is not imposing any lockdowns, or rather not enforcing, so the thing is like a roller coaster.

    India to America, India to Germany, UK…. Watch them pin it on China, and I wouldn’t be surprised Chengdu being so close to the South Tibet region, may soon get it.

  42. As a Belgian citizen, I am really curious to see how this will work out. Over here in Belgium, it’s always good in theory but a disaster in practise 🙂 It took quite a long time before we even had E-gates at customs (for scanning passports) and nowadays – only 2 yrs or so after the start – they are more broken than ever.

    As well curious to see where this will work. Obviously it will be on the B concourse as the A concourse is for Schengen flights only without border control. I do not see that much free space anymore over there for installing this.

    I only have personal experience with pre-clearance in Canada. For my work, I used to fly very often to Canada (YYZ) and last time, my return flight to BRU from YYZ was via Washington. To be honest, I was not impressed with the pre-clearance in YYZ. Long waiting lines for security to the US terminal (even via fast lane); at a particular point in time they even stopped security at all due to long waiting times for US customs after security. I think it took me more than two hours from check-in to gate. And, as mentioned already, this was via fast lane.

  43. Pre-clearance makes sense for Canada-US market, since smaller airports without customs facilities can be served as a domestic flight. Otherwise it is not worth the hassle.

  44. In my view preclearance is mainly an advatage for tourists. Unlike business travellers, they are very unlikely to have GE and immigration (or at least the stories about it) a major negative destination marketing factor for the US. Based on this, a larger market like the UK, Germany, France, Italy or Spain would make more sense.

  45. @Steven I have wondered as well Where they would put it, but there are a few options.

    First of all the renovated old terminal to the right of Concourse B could be used maybe, it is small but big enough for the few US flights that exist, would require a bit of work though.

    All the African flights leave from the back of concourse A which Is seperated from the rest of Concourse A by border control so there would be an option, but it might have to be expanded then because of the additional flights, which begs the question how?

    Lastly, knowing how BRU airport management has never been interested in a good passenger experience and only in political decision-making they might just put it in the middle of B and see everybody suffer, or put it at the end of B, Where most of them leave anyway already.

    One can only hope the airport invests a bit in B, because it is significantly worse passenger experience than Schengen gates

  46. Are there any plans to allow travelers from the EU to enter the US in the foreseeable future? Otherwise, it’s rather insignificant news …

  47. Adding preclearance facilities in additional European airports is a terrible idea. I will go out of my way to avoid flying through such airports on the homeward journey. I absolutely detest face-to-face interviews with the morons who work for CPB. Just let me use Global Entry upon arrival in the US.

  48. Charlie

    I’ve used the SNN pre clearance facility several time and they certainly do have a GE lane.

    The only question I’ve been asked of a CBP agent there since getting GE is “is this your luggage?”. Even without it it’s only ever been a couple of questions.

  49. @Ben – Alexander De Croo is not a Brussels Minister, he’s Federal Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Belgium.
    He’s from Flanders and has nothing to do with the Government of Brussels Capital Region where Sven Gatz is Finance Minister.

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