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Preclearance Program Good For Governments, Passengers, Airlines: Why Not Expand It?

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American Passport - Preclearance Program Helps Travelers, Government and Travel ProvidersHave you ever landed after a long trip abroad only to get stuck in a long line at customs? Turns out the delay might not be necessary.

The Travel Detective reports on the growing trend of preclearance programs and how expanding them could be a win-win for governments, passengers and airlines.

If I were running U.S. Customs & Border Protection, I would insist on establishing a larger preclearance program. We already have a program in place in five different airports.

They should expand it whenever it makes sense. It would save everybody time and money. It would make people happier travelers. There’s no foreseeable downside.

What exactly is preclearance?

Let’s say I’m flying back to the United States from the Bahamas, I clear U.S. Customs & Border Protection in the Bahamas before my plane takes off. Once I land I am ready to go and I don’t have to clear customs again. I save two hours of my life.

There’s no security issue with preclearance. I’m still clearing U.S. Customs with officers. I just clear customs in the Bahamas and not when I land.

Official US Embassy Seal - Preclearance Programs Provide SecurityThe customs officers have all their computers and their databases in the Bahamas. And the airlines still have enough time to transmit all their manifests to the Department of Homeland Security before we ever leave the ground.

The only argument against preclearance is cost. But remember there’s a difference between cost and value. Preclearance results in fewer delayed flights, fewer misconnected bags, and less fuel used.

It would save money even though it would initially cost more.

Imagine what would happen if they actually established preclearance in the entire United Kingdom, where United States citizens are traveling in large numbers, instead of just in Shannon, Ireland. It makes so much sense for international flights when people are arriving at the airport hours before the flight and have enough time to be precleared.

Preclearance is best for baggage handling. The other day I was flying from Toronto to Los Angeles with a stop in Chicago. If I were flying from another country to Chicago, I would have to clear U.S. Customs in Chicago, then get my bags, then retag them, and go back through security again. It’s a ridiculous ritual.

Get tips for clearing borders in our Passports & Customs section

Instead, I checked in in Toronto on American Airlines.

Preclearance MIA in Miami - Mountains of Luggage ResultI then cleared U.S. Customs. My bags were checked all the way through to Los Angeles. I did not have to get them in Chicago.

And when I landed in Chicago I didn’t have to go through security or customs. I just changed planes, changed gates, and off I went. Who loses in this?

Miami is an example of the disaster that can happen without preclearance.

Anybody coming in from the Caribbean, other than the Bahamas, has to clear U.S. Customs in Miami. It’s a mess.

The bags stack up like huge mountains and the missed connections are huge.

When is somebody going to get smart and realize that preclearance is a win-win for everybody. It’s a win-win for passengers, for governments, for duty free shops, for the airlines, even for baggage handlers.

With the volume of travel increasing, it’s time to grow the preclearance program.

Who wants to stand in line for two hours when you come home after you’ve already stood in line for hours to leave another country?

Couldn’t we just save two hours of our life every time we travel? I think we can.

By Peter Greenberg for The Travel Detective Blog on

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