From India to US, go domestic!

New Delhi: Now those who take their nonstop flights to the US from Delhi and Mumbai may soon be landing in America as domestic arrivals, if Air India has its way.

The Maharaja has asked the external affairs ministry to facilitate having US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility at big Indian airports like Delhi and Mumbai.

America-bound passengers can clear all immigration, customs and agriculture inspections required by the US at these facilities during departure itself. On landing in the US, they can simply collect their baggage and walk off the arrival airports like domestic flyers.

While Dublin’s Shannon airport has had the US pre-clearance travel facility for years, AI began to feel the heat when Abu Dhabi also got this facility recently. Jet Airways — the only other Indian carrier that flies (though one-stop) to US — is an equity partner of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad and has plans to fly from 23 Indian cities to Abu Dhabi, feeding huge traffic from India to Etihad’s west-bound flights.

The US pre-clearance is a big draw for flyers to America as it allows them to avoid serpentine queues at US airports. “The Jet-Etihad combine is weaning away passengers from our nonstop flights to US, especially as Jet feeds Etihad’s flights to US from large number of Indian cities. Dubai and Doha airports are also going to have the US pre-clearance. In such a situation, Delhi and Mumbai — from where AI has nonstop flights to US — need a similar facility for AI to remain competitive and take on the growing might of the Gulf carriers here,” a senior AI official said.

Just how important US pre-clearance can be for flyers, especially the frequently flying and high paying business class passengers, is clear from the Etihad website which states: “Abu Dhabi Airport is one of only a handful of airports outside North America that offer the CBP facility. Having cleared CBP, guests can check-through their baggage to their final destination in the United States. On reaching the US, guests will be treated as domestic arrivals, which allows for faster processing at their arrival airport.”

AI’s request comes at a time when the airline is planning to expand its wings in America. It is eying at least five new destinations in the US: San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Washington and Boston. AI currently flies to New York and Chicago, the only Indian carrier to have nonstop services to North America. “We are looking at these five new stations in the US. Depending on aircraft availability, we will launch flights to some of these places by this winter,” said an official.

The expansion plans come as the US Federal Aviation Administration recently upgraded the Indian directorate general of civil aviation, a move that allows Indian carriers to add American cities on their network.


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