Brussels Airport will become the first airport on Europe’s mainland to offer preclearance into the United States. In doing so, the airport has got the jump on its bigger European rival airports. Belgium’s finance minister, Alexander De Croo, confirmed yesterday that the deal was signed last week.
Preclearance allows customs and immigration formalities to be completed before you board your flight to the United States. It makes for a much smoother arrival and exit from the airport once landed.
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Under the terms of the arrangement, thirty US customs officials will work from Brussels Airport. However, the start date is yet to be announced. Given the stringent border restrictions currently in force on both sides of the Atlantic, the respective governments may wait for restrictions to relax and traffic to pick up before the US customs set up shop in Brussels Airport.
A significant coup for Brussels Airport
According to reports, the deal has been some years in the making. Despite travel presently being in the doldrums, the agreement is a significant coup for Europe’s 24th busiest airport.
In 2019, 26,360,003 passengers moved through Brussels Airport. In contrast, bigger airports in the neighborhood, including Frankfurt am Main (70,556,072 passengers) and Charles de Gaulle Aiport outside Paris (76,150,00 passengers), missed out.
Once up and running, the preclearance facility at Brussels Airport will be the only such facility in mainland Europe. Two Irish airports, Dublin and Shannon, offer it already.
This will give Brussels a significant competitive edge when it comes to attracting passengers. Unless passengers have Global Entry or are US citizens, entry into the United States is notoriously slow and painful. An expedited process before you depart is a very attractive proposition.
Passengers who’ve completed preclearance in Brussels will be treated as domestic passengers when they land in the United States.
“Feedback on US preclearance facilities suggests passengers have smoother journeys into the US, particularly for those connecting to another flight at a US airport,” said Muhammad Ali Albabri, IATA Regional Vice President Africa & Middle East at AVSEC World in 2018.
An interesting airport with a handy niche
While Brussels isn’t the biggest airport in Europe, it has carved out a handy niche for itself as a transit port. Brussels Airlines has extensive links into Africa, and the airport serves as a popular hub for passengers moving between Africa and the United States. The preclearance facility in Brussels will be welcomed by passengers coming out of Africa.
Getting the United States Government to sign off on the deal also validates the steps Belgium has taken in recent years to upgrade its internal security, with subsequent flow-through effects and benefits at their airport.
The benefit of preclearance for the United States is that it reduces the customs and immigration workloads at their entry airports. It also speeds up passenger flow through at arrival airports and reduces congestion.
More preclearance airports on the way
Meanwhile, Brussels Airport shouldn’t get too self-congratulatory. The United States Government is quietly working away on preclearance agreements with multiple countries. Several years ago, the US Department of Homeland Security identified Punta Cana Airport (Dominican Republic), Narita International Airport (Japan), Amsterdam Airport Schipol (Netherlands), Oslo Airport (Norway), Madrid-Barajas Airport (Spain), Stockholm Arlanda Airport (Sweden), Istanbul Ataturk Airport (Turkey), London Heathrow Airport and Manchester Airport (United Kingdom) as likely future preclearance candidates.
With some luck, in a few years, most of us will be able to avoid the dreaded customs and immigration halls at JFK.