Did you know that sometimes when you are flying back to the United States, you’ll actually go through immigration and clear customs before you board your flight? That’s right. The United States operates preclearance facilities in a handful of different locations around the world (many Canadian airports, Dublin and Shannon, Ireland, a couple in the Caribbean, and Abu Dhabi).
Preclearance is generally said to be a great thing. I mean hey – you get to go through immigration and customs when you’re waiting at the airport for your flight anyway so that when you land you can exit the airport faster and be on your way.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of preclearance because with Global Entry, clearing immigration and customs takes hardly any time at all when I’ve arrived at my destination. Plus, usually, once you pass through preclearance, there are no more airport lounges that you can visit. I would much rather spend my time waiting at the airport in a lounge!
After my most recent experience with preclearance, I’m even less of a fan.
I usually don’t check bags, so I’m not sure if this experience was a total fluke or a more regular occurrence — hopefully, some of you can weigh in!
I landed in Toronto on my way back from Australia. Between my boyfriend and I, we had three checked bags (that’s what Christmas shopping while traveling will do!). When we entered the preclearance area, we had to visit a kiosk which told us that we needed to go to the bag processing waiting area and wait for our bags to be finished processing before we could continue to immigration.
Now, typically when you fly back into the US, you’ll have to claim your bag at your first port of entry and re-check it to your final destination within the US. But in Toronto, all of that happens behind the scenes. You merely need to wait until your bag has finished processing until you can go through. It sounds great.
But what happens if your bag hasn’t finished processing? You have to wait. What if your flight is leaving soon? Doesn’t matter, you still have to wait! We had to wait over an hour from the time we got to the bag processing area until the third of our bags finished processing. At this point, we had less than 20 minutes until our flight was supposed to leave and we still needed to go through immigration and make our way to the gate.
Amazingly, we somehow made it in time (though unfortunately our bag still ended up missing the flight – it was delivered the following evening).
I find it to be kind of crazy that we were held up and almost missed our flight because our bag was still processing. And we would have been stuck overnight in Toronto, too!
To be fair, I honestly don’t know what would happen if a similar situation occurred at a regular US port of entry (like Chicago or LAX). If you had a checked bag that hadn’t come out yet, but you were going to miss your flight, would you leave your bag there? Would you be able to go through immigration? If so, would you have issues getting your bag back? I’m not sure.
Have you had experience with slow bags when arriving back into the US (or a preclearance facility) that caused you to miss or almost miss your flight? Tell me about it in the comments!
[Image: Flickr/CBP International Travel Preclearance Operations in Canada]