Passengers traveling from the United Arab Emirates to the USA will avoid long U.S. Customs lines now that a new pre-clearance facility has opened in Abu Dhabi’s airport.
Special counters for immigration, customs and other relevant procedures have been set up to allow all the pre-clearance operations at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) for passengers heading for the US. allowing passengers to take their luggage and leave the airports without any delay or queues in the US.
The U.S. has pre-clearance passenger facilities throughout Canada, in four Caribbean locations and Ireland. The new facility in Abu Dhabi is the Middle East’s first. It is also the first pre-inspection arrangement to be enacted with another country since the 1980s.
Etihad Airways (EY), the state-backed airline, currently is the only airline flying direct between Abu Dhabi and the USA. It operates non-stop daily flights from Abu Dhabi to New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. It plans more routes this year to Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth.
The development has drawn criticism from U.S. pilots and members of Congress. Critics allege the decision to open the facility was made mainly on the basis of funding offered by the UAE, which pays 85% of the costs associated with the operation, including the salaries of U.S. Customs and Border officials.
JetBlue, which recently announced a codeshare agreement with Etihad, backs the new facility.
JetBlue told USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog that it was in favor of the Abu Dhabi facility.
“We believe that in addition to the need for an increase in CBP (Customs and Border Control) staffing at key U.S. gateway airports, more preclearance facilities like the one planned for Abu Dhabi are both a vital tool to enhance our nation’s security and reduce the number of travelers clearing Customs at already delayed entry points – and that ultimately reduces wait times for everyone else,” JetBlue said in a statement to Today in the Sky.
“We have many customers today who arrive from Abu Dhabi on our partner Etihad Airways who then continue their journey on JetBlue flights across the U.S.,” the airline continued. “Preclearance would allow them to make faster connections state-side and get on with business. The less hassle travelers have coming into the country, the more visitors will come and that’s good for all of us in the travel industry.”
More than 16.5 million passengers flew through Abu Dhabi International Airport in 2013, a 12.4 per increase over 2012, according to a statement released by Abu Dhabi Airport Company on Wednesday.