Citing potential flight delays, Qatar Airways‘ CEO has said the airline is scrapping plans to adopt pre-clearance security procedures for passengers flying to the US through Hamad International Airport (HIA).
Akbar Al Baker ruled out establishing the system while speaking at last week’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, Arabian Business reports.
The idea behind the pre-clearance system is to enable passengers traveling to the US to finish customs procedures before boarding their flight, so they can avoid long queues when they arrive at their destination.
So far, the system is operational in just three cities outside of North America – Abu Dhabi, and Dublin and Shannon in Ireland.
Last year, Al Baker said that he was in talks with US authorities to establish the procedure at HIA as the airline expanded its service into America. A Qatar Airways spokesperson declined to comment to Doha News on the status of the carrier’s application for pre-clearance permissions.
But the CEO appears to have had a change of heart in any case, saying apparent delays incurred by rival Etihad in Abu Dhabi was one of a number of reasons Qatar Airways decided not to introduce the measures.
“I will not have pre-clearance in Doha and from what I know, Dubai will not have that,” he is quoted as saying.
The official added that he would prefer a smooth transition in Doha and that as an airline, his duty is to get passengers to their destinations on time, as “What happens there in the immigration is not my problem.”
“If I start doing pre-clearance in Doha and my aircraft constantly arrives late into the US, which is happening now with Etihad, I’m obliged to provide accommodation to my customers who misconnect, because they never asked us to pre-clear.
This is something we generated, so I would rather take the passenger on time to their destination and then what happens in immigration and customs is not my problem. I don’t want to create another confusion or delay by pre-clearing passengers.”
When Abu Dhabi airport adopted the procedures in January last year, the US-based Air Line Pilots Association, which has 50,000 members, protested at what they said amounted to an unfair advantage for the state-backed Gulf carriers over their competitors, the Wall Street Journal said.
Since then, passengers have complained of enduring long delays.
In the blog Onemileatatime, Lucky described the facility as a “disaster,” saying it added time to the journey instead of shortening it.
And last November, Forbes quoted from FlightStats.com showing that in the previous two months, only 1 percent of flights from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles arrived on time, with average delays of one hour. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of Etihad flights arrived on time between Abu Dhabi and Chicago.
The report quoted an unnamed source as saying that the delays were due almost entirely to queues at the pre-clearance facility.
Meanwhile, traffic at HIA continues to grow at a rapid clip. According to newly released passenger figures, a total of 7.3 million passengers passed through the airport in the first three months of this year – up 17 percent on the passenger numbers for the same period last year at Doha International Airport.
January was the busiest month this year so far for travel, with 2,589,403 passengers departing, arriving and transiting through the airport. There were 2,285,221 passengers in February; and 2,485,684 for the month of March, HIA said.
HIA’s Chief Operating Officer Badr Mohammed Al Meer added that the airport is already gearing up to cope with a significant spike in travelers during the busy summer months, saying “HIA is fully prepared for the rise in aircraft movements and passenger traffic expected during the summer.”
As passenger traffic increases, the airport recently introduced parking fees for its long-term parking lot, which was previously free. It now costs QR45/day to park in the lot.