Air India wants US pre-clearance at Mumbai and Delhi

I’m pretty amused with Air India sometimes, and today is one of those days. Air India has requested the Indian External Affairs ministry to liaise with their American counterparts to get Customs & Border Protection to open pre-clearance outposts in India on the lines of Abu Dhabi airport. The Economic Times reports:

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 US, they can simply collect their baggage and walk off the arrival airports like domestic flyers.

For the uninitiated, the USA for years, has operated a few outposts in places such as Dublin, where passengers can clear customs & immigration before getting on their flight to the USA, and hence arrive as domestic passengers once in the US. Recently, Abu Dhabi gained this facility. And USA has made its intentions known to provide pre-clearance at Brussels, London Heathrow, Punta Cana, Narita, Schipol, Oslo, Madrid, Stockholm, Istanbul and Manchester. 

I wouldn’t be amused if there were volumes involved, but from Air India’s own network, right now they make one daily flight from Mumbai and Delhi to New York (EWR/JFK), and one flight to Chicago which are all non-stop flights. On the other hand, this is similar to the flights originiating from from Oslo & Stockholm to the USA. Apparently, AI feel threatened by the Jet-Etihad combine:

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,” said a senior AI official.

There is also an argument built by AI for that. Apparently they are looking at starting 5 more flights to the USA from India:

San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Washington and Boston.

“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.

I don’t know how much of this I want to believe, but it sure is amusing to see Air India taking the lead on these efforts. So, if it works out, kudos to Air India for getting this through, else best of luck for trying!

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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. I always prefer to travel Air India. However I was disappointed on BOM- LHR Dreamliner economy class experience.

    The basic things like a properly reclining seat , cleanliness of
    the aircraft were ignored. Atleast 25% seats were not getting reclined properly. My seat did not move an inch…! I found traces and pieces of Indian snack left behind by the previous passenger.My sons entertainment system had a broken – non functional – hanging remote. So other than above average leg space and Indian food, there was nothing positive to write about. On the return journey , fortunately the seat was OK, but overall experience was far from satisfactory.
    Its a shame that engineering staff or whom so ever is responsible for maintaining the plane is not doing justice to these dreamliners.

  2. I think its a great idea to increase business and good chance of them getting it too. Will be really helpful for us in India. Don’t be too amused.

  3. LOL. Not going to happen.

    Airports hosting CBP pre-clearance facilities have to cover most or all of the costs, including the American officers. That’s fine in places like Canada where there can be dozens of flights a day to various US cities, but for an airport with only a few flights it makes no sense at all.

    I’m sure the Jet-Etihad alliance is stealing lots of traffic from Air India, but I don’t think it’s because of the pre-clearance facility in Abu Dhabi (which is actually an operational disaster itself by all accounts). Perhaps Air India should focus its attention on improving quality and developing a realistic business plan instead.

  4. Another harebrained scheme!
    Who will pay for the facility? We only have the current 3 nonstops by AI, without a significant initial and continual investment by the Indian government (read: tax paying public), CBP won’t set up shop here. And, AI wants pre-clearance at multiple airports for presumably a single flight each.
    I don’t think any of the current North American routes even make an operating profit for AI, more money down the endless hole.

  5. I don’t think AI has the required aircraft for a BLR/HYD-SFO non-stop.
    The route clocks in at 7561 nm. Figuring anywhere around 5-10% more range required for emergencies, diversion airports, etc., neither a 787-8 nor a 77W can fly this mission.

    A 77L can fly this, but AI has sold 5 of them to EY recently and the rest are not in flying condition currently imo. If anyone has a better info on these birds, please share.

    Things might have been different if some of the 787-8 orders could have been converted to the longer range 787-9, as was mooted.

    Currently, only DEL-SFO is feasible for the current fleet.
    Same goes for IAH.
    IAD and BOS though, are easily doable.

  6. Great Article AJ!! We are contributing a lot to US Economy why we don’t have Pre CBP.

    Also Air India has did a great job by raising such demands, kudos to strategy makers.

    Their customer care was good and improving daily. Recently an executive called me back after realizing, he has delivered a little bit wrong info over the phone.

  7. I would assume the would be flying the dreamliners on these routes. Makes a lot of sense and get a lot of business too provided they increase their routes. A case could be made for Blr/Hyd to SFO too because of the IT sector.

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