Etihad’s Delayed US Flights Are A Sign Of Their Success?!

Filed Under: Etihad

I’ve written extensively about Etihad’s US Pre-Clearance facility, whereby US-bound passengers departing Abu Dhabi clear US immigration prior to boarding their flight. When the facility first opened it was a disaster, with almost all flights experiencing delays of several hours.


Over time the facility has been expanded to cover all of Etihad’s US-bound flights, and admittedly the performance has gotten a bit better.


The Cranky Flier wrote an interesting post a couple of weeks ago analyzing Etihad’s on-time performance for their US-bound flights. He has a graphic with the data, but ultimately it boils down to this:

Only 1 percent of flights departed on or before the schedule departure time. Even if you give a 15 minute buffer, it’s still just 6 percent. More than a quarter of flights were delayed over an hour. That’s pretty awful.

Fair enough. So that’s much better than the performance Etihad used to have when the facility first launched, when it seemed like 99% of flights were delayed by hours. And Brett is analyzing Etihad’s departure performance as opposed to arrival performance (because that’s the data he could more reliably access). Let’s keep in mind the flights often have quite a buffer.

So as such I wasn’t going to comment on the post (it’s well written and speaks for itself), it seems like Brett received a statement from Etihad in the past couple of days regarding the subject (bolding mine):

We recognize that flights to the U.S. via the Abu Dhabi U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Pre-Clearance facility are often delayed, however, ironically they are a sign of the success of the facility and demonstrate that our guests see the opportunity of pre-clearance upon departure as a positive — in preference to pre-clearing upon arrival in the U.S. The facility was opened in January, 2014 and at the time only served two flights a day to the U.S. Today, as of May 2015, the facility now handles over 45 flights a week, over two shifts, with an increasing numbers of guests. Furthermore, the capability of the facility is constantly increasing with the recent addition of Automated Passport Control kiosks, Global Entry kiosks, and additional U.S. CBP staffing resources. Last month, Etihad opened a premium lounge on the “U.S. side” of the facility. This is an undeniable success in an incredibly short space of time and confirmation of the popularity of the pre-clearance process.


Let me make sure I get this right. Etihad is saying that the reason they’ve grown from 14 flights a week to 45 flights a week to the US is because of the Pre-Clearance facility? Can you say “false causation?” Are they really suggesting that they added service to Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc., because of the Pre-Clearance facility?!

That would be like American saying “our guests really enjoy our new 10 abreast seating in economy on the 777… those planes are carrying more passengers than ever before!”

Bottom line

I guess on one hand it’s nice that Etihad is recognizing that the flights are often delayed. On the other hand, suggesting that the Pre-Clearance facility is the reason for such growth is as preposterous as saying the US carriers could never fly to India because of the Gulf carriers

Emirates and Qatar have experienced similar growth to the US without Pre-Clearance facilities…

  1. Lucky – I don’t remember you blogging about paying any tax when you fly CX either from the U.S. to Asia or back, I just booked 2 seats on CX from Asia to U.S. using AS miles and was charged $187.80 tax for 2 pax. Any comments?

    One more question… which airline/s would you use or recommend to travel from PDX to MCO (2 to 3 weeks stopover) then to Asia (Hong Kong or Japan) on first class? I have enough AS & AA miles for the trip, thanks!​​

  2. @ Silver — Right, there are always taxes, so that’s not too unusual. But was there a phone ticketing fee? If so, that should have been waived.

    Unfortunately there’s not going to be an airline which allows a stopover in Orlando when enroute from Portland to Asia.

  3. Thanks. I’ll need to check if AS charged us a phone ticketing fee.

    What if I just fly from PDX to ORD, then to Asia on CX? Which airline should I use with the AS and AA miles that I have?

  4. Hi Lucky! Loyal reader here.

    Enjoy your site quite a bit, but I’ve noticed that the new Ask Lucky forum is really gone downhill since your and/or associates rarely post/answer there. I think that’s been leading to more and more people using whatever most recent post is to ask you questions (see @Silver above).

    Nothing wrong with that (guess I’m doing that too here), but I do think it distracts from your posts and the follow-up comments.

    Just thought I’d point that out to you.

  5. They’ve done US preclearance on flights from Canada (Toronto at minimum, maybe other sites, not certain) for years. Works a treat avoiding the b.s. on the arrival side.

  6. @Silver
    I did a booking with Alaska miles a couple months ago, and paid something like $25 per ticket for a phone charge. Granted, the trip originated in the U.S., but I wouldn’t think that would matter.

  7. @ Christian @ Silver — Sorry, I misread. I thought we were talking about American and not Alaska. Whoops!

  8. @ JimC — Appreciate you reading and the support. To be completely candid, it’s something I’m struggling with. One thing I take a lot pride in about my blog is that I actually write a vast majority of the content. Not ghost writers or others. And there aren’t many blogs of this size where that’s the case. And that presents a challenge, because I only have so many hours in the day. I get more comments on the blog than ever before (hundreds a day), Ask Lucky questions, try to write as much as I can, and get hundreds of emails a day. Juggling all of that can be a challenge, but I do promise to try and do a better job with the Ask Lucky page.

    The past month has been especially rough, given that I’ve been to China three times. Thanks for your patience and support.

  9. @ Silver — Alaska would be the best option there, as you would fly Alaska to Chicago and then Cathay Pacific from there, after a stopover.

  10. Lucky, have you noticed AA reps being unable to see Etihad Guest availability? I’ve called recently on a number of occasions only to experience this issue. Hopefully it’s not another IT glitch….

  11. @ ILDC — Hmmm, can’t say I’ve encountered that recently. How many seats are you trying to book, in what cabin, and what route?

  12. EY’s US flights are undoubtedly still being delayed, but I suspect there is a problem with the data used in the study.

    If you look at e.g. Flightaware, you will see that AUH departure times can vary a lot but USA arrival times do not vary as much. For example, on 1 June, EY151 (sched dep 3:40am) “left at 4:08am” and arrived ORD 9:04am. However on 2 June, EY151 “left at 6:29 am”, nearly 2.5 hours later, and yet arrived earlier, at 8:47am.

    How is that possible? Did they speed up to make up time? Doubtful; rather, AUH is not reporting departure times correctly. The ORD arrivals are correct, but departure times are garbled. Indeed, in some cases Flightaware notes that arrival times in AUH for inbound flights are not reported at all.

    Since these flights are generally arriving on schedule in ORD, the delays must be minor. I haven’t checked EY’s flights to other airports.

  13. I was trying to modify the date of a previous AUH-IAD booking for 1 in F. I can clearly see plenty of availability in F on Etihad Guest, but AA reps unable to see oddly.

  14. I should add that I think the ORD arrivals are correct because I believe the original data are generated by the airport, not the airline. Someone will correct me if that is not so.

  15. Hey lucky,

    Have u ever booked any partner awards using etihad miles? Specifically looking at air Seychelles and South African redemptions. Agents can’t seem to find space even though it’s wide open on expert flyer / united. Wondering if u knew of any tricks other than huca.

  16. Would you book LAX-AUH or LAX-JFK-AUH in first? The catch is that the JFK flight on the 380 isn’t available (which is what I’m ultimately looking for), and only the JetAirways operated flight is. This will be for 2 people in April 2016. Should I take my chances and go with the JFK flight or stay on the LAX flight? Thanks!

  17. No. Read what Etihad says more carefully. Etihad is saying that the facility only served 14 flights a week, not that they had 14 flights a week to the U.S. At the time of opening, Etihad already had jfk, IAD, ord. That’s 21 flights a week. But only 14 of the 21 used the facility. The facility has grown and now accommodates all us bound flights. Whether that’s a sign of the facility’s success is debatable, but Etihad did not clai that the facility’s success allowed them to expand the number of US destinations they serve.

  18. “Would you book LAX-AUH or LAX-JFK-AUH in first?”

    using AA miles? If so, did you know you can book either and still change it later without any change fee since your origination and destination remains same? I would book either one and keep monitoring the JFK-AUH for that F on a380. I would not waste a single mile on that JetAirways metal.

  19. I’ve flown with Etihad on 12 occasions, never to the USA, and they were all delayed a minimum of 90 minutes; I wonder what they attribute those delays to…! it’s just too stressful to fly with them, especially with domestic transfers thrown into the mix.

  20. I’m with His Excellency Akbar Al Baker on pre-clearance… I’d rather not have it, depart on-time, and deal with U.S. Immigration / Customs once I get to the destination.

  21. @ Jason — Fair point, but the argument is equally weak. They’re saying that the reason for the success of the routes is the added use of Pre-Clearance, no? How else do you interpret their statement?

  22. @ Ted — Definitely LAX-AUH. I’d take nonstop over Jet Airways plane with a stop and small chance of A380. And if it does become A380, you can always switch later.

  23. @ Acs — Some of their agents aren’t especially competent, so sometimes it does require a lot of hanging up and calling again.

  24. @ ILDC — Are you seeing GuestSeat availability and not OpenSeat availability with Etihad?

  25. Lucky, you wrote, June 2, 2015 at 7:42 pm, @ Christian @ Silver — Sorry, I misread. I thought we were talking about American and not Alaska. Whoops!

    To clarify, do mean only AA charges a phone charge and not AS?

    If I use AA miles, I could fly from PDX to ORD on AA or US metal (instead of AS metal aka flying Greyhound), then buy an ORD-MCO-ORD to catch CX to Asia (from ORD), right?

  26. @ Silver — I meant American waives the phone ticketing fees while Alaska doesn’t. If redeeming American miles you can’t have a stopover of more than 24 hours.

  27. Ok, thanks a bunch for clearing that up, Lucky. By the way, AS does charge extra miles for flying from LAX to PDX, maybe that agent I spoke with is new or something. If you’re sure 70k miles includes any Asian city CX flies to – to any US city AS flies to, then that AS agent is wrong.

  28. @ Silver — What itinerary were you looking at, and how much did they tell you it cost?

  29. @ Silver — Yeah, the agent was definitely wrong, assuming you’re not trying to get more than one stopover.

  30. All they’re saying is that it’s successful because they’ve expanded it to cover more flights and have a lounge. A big ” so what? Who cares?” In my book. You’re right. Weak

  31. Lucky, I’ll double check and report back if really necessay. Thanks again!

    P.S. While I drink my glass of Krug, I’ll remember you, Lucky.

  32. Problem in the area is that many of the names come up as possible terror/no-fly lookouts…almost everyone needs a visa…all have to have fingerprints and photos taken…probably VERY few CBP Officers that speak the native language(s)…
    Bet every 4th or 5th person has ten possible matches to their name/passport number/date of birth…
    Takes much longer to vet these passengers than say…Canadians…or Americans…where they are all exempt from fingerprints and photos…and WAY fewer possible name matches to “persons of interest”.
    Flight probably won’t leave until all passengers get through…even if the person showed up at last minute to check in and has a name like Mohammed Mohammed and birthdate of 00/00/1965….and takes 2 hours to clear CBP formalities.
    Flights should leave on time and leave behind anyone that did not make the cut-off…find them another flight. Needs of the many…needs of the few…or one.

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