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.


2 Responses to U.S. should change ‘international airport’ designation policy

  1. Alex Cohen says:

    Since my usual airport is “Reno Tahoe International Airport”, I’ll take this one…

    Yeah, the CBP should really have had a way to get someone, even a single official, to the airport to process the immigration. Or the airline could have diverted the plane to Boston.

    Just the same, there’s more to think about than just passenger traffic. Importing cargo of any type really is significantly easier if you have access to a customs facility — otherwise, you basically have to handle all the formalities for whatever you’re importing at the nearest point of entry.

    While this doesn’t sound like a big deal if you’re in New York, DC, or San Francisco, it’s kind of a pain if you’re running a business that’s heavily involved in imports in, say, Albuquerque.

  2. John says:

    Given a normal advance notice of arrival, I am confident Customs & Border Protection officers would be ready to receive these international travelers. Although airports have an international designation, it does not necessarily mean the airport will be fully staffed around the clock with CBP officials. That would clearly be a waste of tax payer funds. It is obvious the unexpected diversion due to weather (as a safety precaution) was the root cause of the delay. I don’t see justification for changing a policy of airport designation. Maybe there is a more reasonable approach to solving the problem of not providing the travelers with food or water. I commend the CBP officials for securing the persons on board the aircraft until they could be properly inspected and granted admission into our country.

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