At JFK Airport in New York yesterday, US Secretary for Homeland Security Jeh Johnson had this to say about the US Government decision to establish preclearance facilities in airports in nine countries around the world, including Sweden:
“Preclearance is also a win for the average traveler because it reduces customs wait times at the busiest gateway airports. Passengers who are pre-cleared at an airport overseas don’t have to wait in line once they arrive at an international airport in the US, like here at JFK. It shortens the wait times for everyone, while maintaining the highest security standards. In other words, preclearance substantially improves the overall experience for US travellers returning home as well as our foreign guests who visit for business and pleasure.”
Imagine being able to complete all immigration and customs formalities before getting on a transatlantic flight to the United States. To step off the plane after a long, tiring flight, pick up your luggage and head straight out the door, rather than be stuck waiting in long lines to first clear immigration and customs/agricultural inspections. To have the peace of mind of knowing that your admission into the United States has already been approved and cleared, rather than wondering if there will be any complications at the border.
Under the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Preclearance Program, such services are already a reality at 15 airports across Canada, the Caribbean, Ireland and, most recently, in Abu Dhabi. It is also the exciting future that the US Government, the Swedish government and Swedavia, the Swedish Airport Authority, are currently exploring for Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport.
As part of its long-term strategy to improve both security screening as well as the international air traveler’s overall experience, CBP recently unveiled a bold expansion goal of having 33 percent of all US-bound air travellers arriving on pre-cleared flights by 2024. To achieve this goal, CBP is partnering with the Swedish government and Swedavia to establish a new, state-of-the-art preclearance facility here at Arlanda. This facility would precisely duplicate the international arrivals facilities at major US international airports, and would be fully staffed by American CBP officials, who would complete all immigration and customs formalities prior to boarding so that passengers and their luggage can be fully pre-cleared for admission into the United States, arriving as if on a domestic flight.
Most of the benefits of preclearance are self-evident. For the traveller, such facilities provide for shorter wait times, faster connection times, seamless baggage transfers, more efficient pre-boarding and greater predictability door-to-door. Airlines also benefit through lower ground handling costs, more gate space, and expanded routing options, since planes no longer have to arrive only at major US gateway airports. Airports themselves also benefit from hosting preclearance operations through higher demand and increased routing options. And perhaps most importantly, public safety is enhanced by being able to address security issues prior to boarding of the flight.
The US and Swedish governments are delighted to have such a capable and committed partner in Swedavia, and share a belief that a preclearance facility at Arlanda will improve customer service, attract increased traffic, expand new route opportunities and solidify Arlanda as the premier travel hub for the Nordic region. Such an operation will require significant modifications to the current infrastructure at Arlanda, but we remain confident that the proposed facility can be appropriately incorporated within the existing pier at Terminal 5.
The establishment of a preclearance facility will also require overcoming a variety of legal and logistical hurdles in order to assure that there is proper legal authority for CBP to staff and conduct preclearance operations on Swedish soil. The evaluation process is now underway, and we believe we have an excellent partnership that will thoroughly review these requirements and ensure that the necessary studies are conducted and approvals obtained.
A preclearance operation at Arlanda Airport will be a tremendous boon for travel between Sweden and the United States, will benefit passengers, the airport and the airlines alike, and will mark a major advancement in the ever-strengthening US-Swedish partnership. The challenges are real, but, we think, surmountable, and we look forward to working together to making preclearance a reality.