In what could be equally titled “Why First, Business and Lounges Matter”, the US Department of Homeland Security is expanding pre clearance to London, Tokyo, Madrid, Amsterdam and Stockholm amongst others. Pre clearance is the U.S. governments way of screening passengers at their point of departure rather than upon entry into the United States. Yes, you will clear United States immigration when you depart your home airport rather than when you land in the U.S. allowing you to grab your bag and head straight for a cab when you land! For the government, it’s an excellent way to proactively deny entry and gain a clearer picture of U.S. bound passengers; for passengers it’s a great way to add an eight ball of uncertainty into how early you need to arrive at the airport.
For a passenger with Global Entry and a business class ticket complete with lounge access this is no biggie. Show up early, wait in line, don’t, either way you will relax in peace before taking a flight with a bed and hop right into a cab upon arrival. For the rest of the universe, you will be faced with an inestimable wait. You may arrive at the airport with tons of immigration lines open, speed through and have a wonderful time at duty free knowing that you are free to go upon arrival in your destination. On the other hand, you may arrive to an immigration pre clearance delay long enough to watch the Godfather trilogy in line before meeting a friendly (cough) immigration officer. Pre clearance is simple at smaller airports where U.S. bound flights depart from one terminal. Not much changes. When dealing with larger scale airports such as Heathrow where multiple terminals serve U.S. bound flights, each with unique products and offerings, the infrastructure and… general structure to arrange pre clearance becomes iffy. You can’t make British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Delta, US Airways and others all play nice and share one lounge in one terminal. It defeats their product and branding.
The good news is that these are plans, not actualities for tomorrow. Most plans involve negotiation, frustration, wasted money and of course time. I wouldn’t expect pre clearance to be ready anytime soon. The logistics of having Homeland Security Pre Clearance at an airport like Heathrow is enough to keep things running in circles for a while. One can only hope that the continually expanding reciprocal benefits between the U.S. and the U.K will lead to Global Entry access for all. It’s truly amazing. Oh, and using your miles for free business class and lounges is always what the doctor ordered.
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