The opening of Doha’s new Hamad International Airport is cause for celebration. The airport is dazzling in its design and places Qatar up there with Abu Dhabi and Dubai as proof of the benefits of having a national aviation vision and sound economic strategy. Create the former, with a first-class airport hub at its foundation, and the latter follows.

Compare this forward-thinking strategy—mirrored in places such as mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea—with the airport attitudes of the US and much of Europe, and the contrast is dismal.

One side sees airports as vital economic drivers and national status symbols. Their airports work with their airline partners. Passengers arrive to a welcome of awe-inspiring architecture, open invitations to shop (further investing in the local country), and most important, hassle-free transit through customs and border control or to their next flight.

In Europe, airports are now seen as public nuisances that must be constrained even as global air traffic grows. In the US, particularly at the large international gateway cities, a foreigner’s first glimpse of America is too-often a miserable let down. Tired-looking facilities and even more weary-looking immigration officers greet the arriving passenger after what can be an hours-long queue.

This makes it all the more concerning, then, that the White House has facilitated a Customs and Border Protection preclearance facility at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Such preclearance locations operate in Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean, but there is an important difference in the circumstances. Unlike those other places, no US airline flies direct to Abu Dhabi, so the benefits of preclearance favor the local airline over its US competitors, although US codeshare airlines, of course, benefit from any ongoing travel in the US.

By choosing Abu Dhabi, passengers can skip immigration on arrival in the US and be treated as domestic passengers—with no queues and shorter times between connecting flights, a benefit to them, but why should this be extended to only a few? 

The US DHS’ Trusted Traveler program is a great step forward in easing the airport security processing system, but more can be done.

US Congress should revisit its CBP preclearance policy so that level playing fields are assured and, better still, that where preclearance is granted, the local authority meets all costs.

Even better, the US should invest in its airports and CBP facilities so that preclearance would provide no advantage. Reducing chronic customs queues and making US airports attractive destinations in their own right would significantly enhance the travelers’ experience and encourage them to spend more.

Isn’t that supposed to be the American way? The irony is that, when it comes to its gateway airports, the US lags far behind.