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Going to US? Makes sense to fly via Abu Dhabi

Last updated on: February 10, 2014 11:26 IST

Going to US? Makes sense to fly via Abu Dhabi

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Surajeet Das Gupta, Aneesh Phadnis & Sharmistha Mukherjee

Waiting time for customs, immigration clearance cut drastically; Jet-Etihad alliance to get competitive advantage


With just 4 per cent share of the India-US air traffic, the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways is a small player when compared to the big boys such as Emirates, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air India, United and even Qatar Airways.

But the equation could change dramatically as passengers from India will not have to wait in long queues at the customs and immigration counters of a US airport any more if they fly through Abu Dhabi.

They can now do all formalities at a US pre-clearance facility within the Abu Dhabi airport and land in any US city without any hassles.

According to hearings at a committee of the US House of Representatives, a passenger flying by a carrier from Asia through a European city takes over three hours to clear customs in the US. On flying through Abu Dhabi, the clearance will take just half an hour.

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Photographs: Ben Job/Reuters
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The US customs and border post began operations in Abu Dhabi a few days ago and is the first one set up after the 1980s. The other pre-clearance facilities are mostly located at Canadian airports, at three Caribbean locations (Aruba, Bermuda and the Bahamas) and in Shannon and Dublin in  Ireland.

Abu Dhabi is the 15th airport outside the US to have an American customs and border post.

According to the US department of commerce data, over 720,000 Indian visitors travelled to the US in 2012 — 9 per cent more than in the previous year.

The setting up of the pre-clearance facility will give a major advantage to the Jet-Etihad alliance and is expected to see a shift of passengers flying to the US from cities such as Dubai, London and Frankfurt to name a few.

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Photographs: Ahmed Jadellah/Reuters

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According to Kapil Kaul of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, the pre-clearance facility gives Jet-Etihad a decisive competitive advantage on India-US traffic. Transfer and leveraging of US traffic is a key strategic element of their plans.

“It will put Jet-Etihad in the driver’s seat on the India-US market, though the impact of FAA’s India downgrade might create challenges,” says Kaul.

“There is always congestion at major airports, including the JFK airport in New York. The pre-clearance facility will especially help business travellers from India who visit the US for short trips. Clearing customs and immigration will also be of convenience to tourists who can put the transit time to good use,'' says Ashwini Kakkar, vice-chairman of Mercury Travels.

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Photographs: Reuters

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Controversy over the post


The decision by the US to open a pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi has been attacked by many US airlines and congressmen who allege that 80 per cent of the costs of setting up and manning the facility are being funded by the UAE.

The US department of homeland security has justified that, saying the UAE is becoming a key transit point for international terrorism and the move would help keep closer scrutiny.

US airlines say the move gives a huge competitive advantage to Etihad, which flies from the airport, as none of them have any direct service to the US from the city. The US wanted to set up the facility in Dubai, from where many American carriers fly.

But the UAE government rejected the proposal and suggested Abu Dhabi.


Image: A child plays inside Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Photographs: Ahmed Jadellah/Reuters

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