ATW Editor's Blog

China’s immigration and customs process bests US international airports


I’m on work travel that is taking me from my Washington DC base to Germany and China. Though I travel a lot, even I was amazed at the swiftness and friendly efficiency with which I was swept through immigration and customs at Frankfurt and Shanghai airports.

I’m signed on the US DHS’ Global Entry/Trusted Traveler program, which is good…but I swear I still went through Frankfurt immigration quicker than I would have a hope of getting through Dulles, JFK and certainly LAX.

More surprising – the process was just as efficient at Shanghai, where a nice female immigration officer smiled, greeted me in English, scanned my passport, checked my visa and voila! After a barely-three minute queue, hello China.

The US, meanwhile, greets its arriving passengers with waits that can easily be an hour or more, even though most documentation and information must be supplied in advance.

Worse, it has now permitted immigration and customs pre-clearance for travelers from Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles to take place at Abu Dhabi airport (the way you are pre-cleared by US officers at Canada’s airports). So those passengers arriving in the US can continue their journey straight from the plane as if it were a domestic flight, with no more inspections, while everyone else faces the tedious queues. The only carrier providing nonstop flights between those two points is Abu Dhabi’s Etihad.

Either the US should take a note from other busy international airports such as Frankfurt and Shanghai (there are others that are highly efficient, including Hong Kong), and invest in more border control resources and better processing services, or it should extend pre-clearance to far more countries so they can enjoy equal status with Abu Dhabi.

Note to DHS – China is outsmarting you.And airports fuel economies.

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