Saturday, November 15, 2008

Irish Airports to Offer US Pre-Clearance Facilities

At last, some bone-fide good news, for Irish airports and travelers to the US.

A report in this morning's Irish Times says that "Dublin and Shannon airports are set to become the first airports outside the Americas to offer full pre-clearance facilities to passengers travelling to the US, thereby boosting their potential as transatlantic hubs and speeding up travel times."

The piece goes on to say: "Both airports already offer immigration clearance but the new agreement will add customs and agriculture clearance on Irish soil for US-bound travellers. This means airlines will be able to fly from Dublin and Shannon to less congested and less expensive domestic terminals in the US. Passengers will be able to check their baggage through to their final destination even if this involves two flights with different airlines."

This will get around the current ludicrous situation where, even when you've booked a through flight to a US destination, you have to collect and identify your baggage once you land on US soil and then put it back on a separate carousel for its onward flight (and depending on who you're flying with, practically a guarantee that you're baggage and you don't arrive at the same time and at the same airport). You are also obliged to wait at huge queues to clear customs in the US even though you've already cleared immigration in Ireland.

Also: "Airlines will also be able to fly direct to smaller and less expensive domestic airports in the US, an option that may prove attractive to budget carriers hoping to enter the transatlantic market. Smaller private jets are likely to combine a refuelling stop in Shannon with pre-clearance."

The news should be a huge shot in the arm to Shannon in particular, which is still reeling from Michael O'Leary's insistence that the governments recently announced €10 departure tax would mean the demise of the airport completely. O'Leary has threatened to reduce the number of planes based in the Clare airport from four to one if the government doesn't renege on its plans to issue a flat €10 departure tax on anyone flying more than 300km out of an Irish airport. Ryanair currently accounts for 60% of all traffic to Shannon. 

It is likely that carriers flying from Europe and the UK will take the option of using Shannon, in particular, as a pre-clearance stopover, before flying to the US as if they were on a domestic US flight. It still sounds a little convoluted, but take it from one who's flown to the US a bit, it's a lot better than the mayhem you generally encounter when you land at major airports in the US at the moment.

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