Contributor: David Bernard
Friday marked a big day between the US and Swedish government as they signed into effect plans for a pre-clearance facility at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport. For those who are not familiar with the concept of pre-clearance, let me explain. Currently there are a few facilities around the world in which US Customs and Immigration has set up an operation to conduct customs clearance BEFORE departure for select flights entering the United States. Rather than landing off a long flight and having to deal with customs while you’re exhausted and worn out, you do it instead before you even step onto your plane. Then when you land in the US you are treated as a domestic arrival where you can just exit the plane and just walk either to your next flight or to baggage claim. This is still a relatively new program, but it has had overwhelming success thus far.
Personally I have taken part in this while on a return trip from Canada. When leaving Vancouver for a flight to the US I checked in and then followed the signs to the gate. In order to get to the gate however, I had to pass through the customs facility. So I proceeded like normal and was cleared in the same amount of time as usual with regular customs. The facility was managed by US Customs officials, and was almost exactly the same as a regular facility stateside. Thus when I made it back to the US I was cleared to just walk off the plane and to my connecting flight as if I was making just a domestic connection. It certainly took a lot of stress out of things, and seeing how many flights leave from Vancouver into the US it almost makes sense to have a facility there. It definitely made things easier for passengers with tight connections.
As for Stockholm however, the facility isn’t set to open until 2018, but this certainly has many positive impacts for travelers worldwide. While it may seem one-sided that the USA gets a facility but Europe doesn’t get a facility in the US, there are still many added economical benefits for airports and airlines to support this. For local long-haul carrier Scandinavian Airlines, this just became a highly marketable asset to their flights. Why would anyone want to waste more time after landing in the USA when they can just clear customs in Stockholm while they might already be on a layover anyway. For people who don’t have too many airlines preferences, this could be a huge deal breaker.
Currently the US has facilities in most major Canadian airports, as well as Dublin, Shannon, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Aruba, and Abu Dhabi with the intent on expanding in the very near future. Overall I think this is a helpful program, considering how many flights make tight connections in the US and have put many flyers at risk for missing flights. As for other countries, I too would welcome their facilities if it made economical sense. For example European airlines have so many flights departing from the USA and since the Schengen agreement exists then it would make sense at many major airports. On the other hand however, it only makes sense when there are many departing aircraft going to one zone. For example, I wouldn’t recommend it at a smaller airport like Austin, Texas which has only a handful of departures going to Europe. But an airport like JFK which has a growing amount might make a good candidate so long as construction of the program didn’t end up being more of a burden than it was worth.