Long lines upon departing Aruba

By John Wion
This item appears on page 27 of the December 2018 issue.

Upon arriving at Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA) in Oranjestad, Aruba, in March 2018, I was impressed with how well the process worked. Not so with our departure. We were advised to arrive three hours before our flight time, and we did. We just didn't expect the process to actually take 2½ hours or to be so exhausting.

There was one place before the line made it into the terminal, itself, where there was a handful of chairs, but beyond that there was no place to sit.

With carry-on luggage only, we arrived at the airport at 12:45 p.m. on a Saturday, but our experience actually began when, within 24 hours of departure, our group of seven (my wife and I along with our children and grandchildren) was not able to check in online for our flight home to New York with JetBlue.

Three of us, each on a different laptop or smartphone, reached the website, but it said we could not check in, nor was there a JetBlue kiosk for us to use at the airport, so we waited in the long check-in line. But that was nothing compared to the security-check line.

The security line took about two hours, and it was not always clearly delineated. For example, it separated to go through a checkpoint and formed again after people went through a doorway. The line backed up because the facility could not handle the flow.

The problem was compounded by the fact that every process was duplicated, first by Aruban officials and then by US Customs & Border Patrol. However, that did mean that we did not have to go through Customs and Immigration upon arriving in the US, which was a pleasure.

A further delay was caused for people who had checked bags. For some reason, they had to reclaim them from the baggage area in the middle of the process and later put them back on a different belt.

Lovely as Aruba is, I have no desire to go through this experience again.

New York, NY

ITN emailed a copy of Mr. Wion's letter to JetBlue but received no response. ITN also wrote to US Customs & Border Patrol and received the following reply.

The information gathered from Mr. Wion's correspondence indicates that he traveled on a Saturday, which happens to be the busiest day of the week when traveling to the United States from Aruba.

US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) cannot account for Mr. Wion's difficulties with checking in with JetBlue, but in order to clarify why Mr. Wion may have had such an unfortunate experience, it's best to explain the departure process.

When departing Aruba, which happens to be a Preclearance location, Aruban authorities (namely Aruba Immigration) employ an outbound inspection procedure. This process is completely separate from the passengers being cleared by CBP.

Passengers are required to pre sent their documents to Aruba Immigration officers for inspection. After being inspected by Aruba Immigration, the passengers are then directed through an area that is manned by security officers who are also part of the Aruba Immigration outbound inspection process. Passengers are required to remove their shoes, belts, etc., and pass through a scanner as their carry-on is x-rayed.

The entire process, up to this point, can take some time, especially on a Saturday when 4,700 passengers or more need to be processed.

After this process, the passengers arrive in a duty-free and food court area, where they commingle with other passengers not traveling to the US.

After exiting the duty-free/food court area, passengers are required to retrieve their checked bags in the US baggage area prior to proceeding through CBP. Passengers must present themselves with all their bags to a CBP officer for inspection, after which, if there are no other issues, they will proceed to the baggage drop-off area.

On average on a Saturday, passengers are in the CBP area no more than 15 to 20 minutes, and at times even less. Passengers will then drop their bags onto a belt, where the bags are transferred to an outside baggage area to be loaded onto the aircraft.

It being a Preclearance location, passengers who are processed in Aruba and cleared prior to departing to the US will not be processed upon arrival to the continental US.

There is one final step that the passengers must traverse, and this is the TSA inspection area. This is a requirement for all passengers traveling to the US from a Preclearance location. This process mirrors that of the Aruban security area, where passengers must again be scanned and are required to remove shoes, belts, etc., and have their carry-on luggage x-rayed. This inspection is duplicated because the passengers will now enter a sterile area with only US-bound flights.

In regard to what the facility on a whole has, such as seating, Aruba Airport Authority manages the airport, itself. Within the CBP area, we ensure that passengers are processed without causing delay while also ensuring the continued safety of all travelers.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Wion had such an exhausting experience returning to the US through the Queen Beatrix Airport in Aruba. Be assured that CBP's process had minimal impact. However, we do apologize for inconveniences Mr. Wion may have experienced, if any, while being processed through the CBP area.

Port Director (A), Aruba Preclearance