Will Jet passengers skip lines at US airports with Abu Dhabi pre-clearance facility?

Two weeks ago, Etihad and Jet Airways announced flights from Abu Dhabi to New York, initially operated by Etihad, and then by Jet.

Last week saw Jet announcing a whole lot of flights between various Indian cities and Abu Dhabi, the latest from Bangalore and Hyderabad which will commence from March 1.

All of these flights are scheduled to connect to the Abu Dhabi New York flight which departs Abu Dhabi at 01:45 and arrives at 09:20. 9W-504 departs Bangalore at 20:30 arrives Abu Dhabi 23:30. 9W-503 departs Abu Dhabi 10:30 arrives Bangalore 16:20.

Also last week, after a gap of three decades, the United States opened another pre-clearance facility, this time in Abu Dhabi, home of Etihad Airways, which also holds a 24 percent stake in India’s Jet Airways.

The United States also has “pre-clearance” facilities at all major Canadian airports, four in the Caribbean, and one in Ireland. These facilities allow passengers to complete US immigration and customs formalities in advance, thus allowing them to avoid the long immigration and customs queues at US airports after they land in the US.

Long lines at US airports are the bane of air travel. Thanks to budget cuts, officers of the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) performing these two important sovereign functions have been reduced, leading to long waits, sometimes in hours, at entry points across the United States.

The Abu Dhabi pre-clearance facility was opposed by pilots of US airlines whose passengers are suffering the effects of the budget cuts, and lawmakers in the US, but it appears that the United Arab Emirates footing 85 percent of the costs of the facility, including salaries of the USCBP officers, has won the day.

The Abu Dhabi government is footing the cost to lure passengers to fly to the United States via Abu Dhabi, thus avoiding long lines on arrival. The state owned airline, Etihad, had code-share agreements with JetBlue based at New York JFK airport, and American Airlines which is based at Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Etihad currently flies to New York JFK, Washington Dulles and Chicago. It will fly to Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth later this year.

While Etihad will surely gain from the pre-clearance facility, it is not clear whether Jet’s passengers transiting through the city will also be able to use the facility and enjoy the benefits. Most likely they will.

And for the Emirates’ faithful, the Middle East’s largest airport, Dubai, which does not have a pre-clearance facility.

Stay tuned next week. Vishal Mehra and myself analyse on the A380 operating to India and which airlines are likely to bring them in. Happy weekend.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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