Scots airports bid to be part of proposal to fast-track immigration checks for US-bound travellers
LENGTHY queues suffered by weary Scottish travellers arriving at American airports could be banished under proposals for passengers to undergo US immigration checks before they take off.
The UK and US governments are investigating the feasibility of establishing fast-track entry checks for Stateside-bound travellers at UK airports.
Both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, which between them handle more than 400,000 passengers a year on US flights, have indicated that they want to be included in the plans, which could attract travellers from the north of England who currently travel south to fly.
Passengers for the US would have their passports checked by US immigration officials and be cleared by US customs at their departure airport.
The proposal could relieve pressure on crowded south-of-England airports, such as Heathrow, by encouraging passengers to fly direct to the States rather than via London.
The plans, unveiled by the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT), follow the introduction of “pre-clearance facilities” at some Irish airports, including Dublin and Shannon in Co. Cork, for US-bound passengers. Scottish passengers flying with Aer Lingus to the US are already able to take advantage of the system.
Such flights arrive at domestic rather than international terminals at US airports, and passengers pass through without further checks. However, such travellers cannot buy duty-free goods in-flight.
Ireland is the only country other than Canada and the Caribbean which offers the facility.
Glasgow airport, which handles 256,000 passengers a year on flights to New York, Philadelphia, Florida and Las Vegas, enthusiastically backed the scheme. A spokesman said: “Given the high volume of passengers that fly direct from Glasgow airport to North America on an annual basis, we would welcome any measures which would speed up entry into the US.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh airport, which has 155,000 passengers annually flying to New York and Florida, said: “Anything that would make it easier for our passengers to travel would be something we would support and certainly explore in greater detail.”
The proposal was also backed by the Scottish Government. A spokesman for its Transport Scotland agency said: “The Scottish Government welcomes any moves which will improve the passenger experience and make it more convenient for travellers between Scotland and the United States. We will work with the relevant authorities both in the US and UK on how this can best be achieved.”
The DfT’s new aviation policy framework states: “The decision on whether to operate such facilities at airports overseas ultimately rests with the US authorities.
“However, the government believes that US pre-clearance at UK airports could offer significant passenger benefits and improve the overall end-to-end journey experience for passengers flying from the UK to the US, whilst at the same time maintaining passenger security and a secure border, which are shared US and UK priorities.
“Accordingly, the government will consider, with the US authorities and interested stakeholders in the UK, the feasibility of such facilities being made available in the UK, including the practical and legal issues that would need to be addressed.”
A DfT spokeswoman said it had yet to be decided which airports would be considered for the scheme, but Glasgow and/or Edinburgh could be included.
She said: “It is up to airports to indicate their interest and we would be happy to engage with the US authorities.”
A spokeswoman for the American Embassy in London said US officials would “continue to review the feasibility of new locations as requests are made.
“CBP would take into consideration a variety of factors, including location, security, availability of law enforcement authorities, mission benefits, and the facilitation of US travel and commerce.”
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