The PJ Tatler

Homeland Security Speeds Customs in Abu Dhabi While Lines Grow Longer in US Airports

If you happened to be trying to get through customs at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Monday, you witnessed something that has become all too common in US airports: an obscenely long line.

The average daily peak wait time at DFW Airport was 67 minutes as of May, according to data compiled by the Global Gateway Alliance. It is a 41 percent increase over May 2012 and one of the worst waits in the country, according to Katie Connell, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an airline industry advocacy organization.

A video posted on YouTube on Monday night captured an extreme example of how long the lines can be.

Dallas-Ft. Worth’s Channel 5 posted these videos of the line that built up Monday evening.

[jwplayer config=”pjm_tatler” mediaid=”133548″]

Statistics show that customs waits are up 11 percent in US airports since last year. Now, before anyone runs forward to blame sequestration, you might have a point but the Department of Homeland Security isn’t going to help you make it.

DHS is funding a speedy customs check in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The speedy customs operation there not only doesn’t help many American passengers, according to three US airline industry veterans, it’s helping a state-owned airline that competes with America’s private sector air carriers. Writing in The Hill, Nick Calio, Capt. Lee Moak and Edward Wytkind question what DHS is doing and why. The latter two represent leadership in the US pilots’ union and the AFL-CIO respectively.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to establish a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi is a bad deal for America and will have strong implications for U.S. airlines, workers and passengers. For starters, it establishes a disturbing precedent in which the U.S. government is picking winners and losers in the international aviation business at the expense of U.S. airlines, their employees, travelers and our overall economy. What’s more, American taxpayers are left picking up the tab for the DHS’s misguided decision to back a government-owned foreign competitor, essentially handing them a strategic competitive advantage over U.S.-based carriers. And finally, it diverts critical resources away from an existing problem that already needs solving – exceedingly long customs lines at entry points in U.S. airports.

It is difficult to imagine our own government is using U.S. taxpayer dollars to foot the bill for preclearance services in Abu Dhabi while passengers wait in lines up to four hours to clear customs at U.S. gateways. This diversion of taxpayer dollars to assist wealthy foreign airlines at the expense of U.S.-based operations cannot be justified. Our position is that no U.S. taxpayer dollars should be invested outside the U.S. before CBP corrects the mess at our own ports of entry. Can’t we all agree that U.S. customs resources should first and foremost be used to benefit the very passengers who fund preclearance facilities through the taxes and user fees they pay?

The preclearance facility in Abu Dhabi will impact US airports:

The international routes that U.S. airlines fly are the most profitable part of our business. In an industry that collectively made just 37 cents per enplaned passenger profit last year, our ability to compete internationally is dependent on CBP’s ability to keep the movement of passenger and cargo flowing smoothly. By establishing this facility, DHS is actively tipping the scales in the UAE’s favor by making it much easier to enter our country if you fly through Abu Dhabi than it is if you fly directly into New York, Houston, Miami, Chicago or Dallas. Etihad Airways CEO even noted that this strategy will encourage travelers to book their travel connecting through Abu Dhabi to avoid the lines in the U.S. airports.

The wealthy foreign competitor in question here is Etihad Airlines. We’ve written about that carrier and Emirates Airlines before. Both are state-owned by the United Arab Emirates. Both are incredibly wealthy because of that state ownership. The two more or less bankroll some of the largest and most successful sports franchises in the world, but none here in the United States. They already benefit from US largesse in the form of loan guarantees through the Ex-Im Bank. Now they’re getting more help from the US taxpayer via the Department of Homeland Security.

Think about that next time you’re caught in an endless line at a US airport and someone blames the sequestration. The Obama administration is still spending far too much money, and it’s spending some of that cash to make America less competitive.