I’ve always been puzzled by the grand “international” designation of numerous small airports throughout the United States, just because they boast the odd flight to and from Canada.
While Canada is, indeed, a foreign country, this week’s incident with a Virgin Atlantic plane at Bradley Airport in Hartford, Conn., provides sufficient justification for my bewilderment.
The image on the left is the official logo of the airport at issue, with the word “international” displayed very prominently. Yet, when the Virgin flight from London to Newark, N.J., was diverted to Hartford because of bad weather further south, about 300 passengers were forcibly confined to the aircraft for four hours without water or food. Some of them got sick and fainted, and chaos reined on board, according to press accounts.
Why? Because there was no one from the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division — immigration and customs officers, in plainer English — to process the travelers.
It’s unclear why it was decided that the plane should land at Bradley, instead of Boston, for example, which has a fully operational CBP facility. I wouldn’t be surprised if whoever made the decision didn’t even think about the lack of immigration and customs in Hartford.
Or perhaps they assumed that having “international” in the airport’s official name actually meant that it could handle international arrivals. Alas, flights from Canada don’t require such processing, because all CBP procedures are done at the respective Canadian airport, and those flights are treated as domestic arrivals once they land in the United States.
So it’s time the U.S. government rethought its “international airport” designation policies and made sure those designations match an airport’s true capabilities.
- Nicholas Kralev is an author and expert on diplomacy, world affairs and global travel. He hosts the weekly program "Conversations with Nicholas Kralev." A former Financial Times and Washington Times correspondent, he has traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. He has flown over 2 million miles and visited 84 countries.
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