Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

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Outchanter
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Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Outchanter » Sat May 25, 2013 10:14 pm UTC

It turns out that WikiTravel has an entire article on avoiding transit though the US. Why? Because unlike many European airports, where you can transfer from one international flight to another without going through Customs and Immigration, if your plane stops in the US for so much as refuel you need a tourist visa.

Now given the choice between two otherwise equal multipart flights, one of which requires a $100 visa application while the other doesn't, it's pretty obvious which one you'd choose. It's much better for the travelers, and consequently the airlines who want their business, not to require a visa.

So what exactly is the point of making people apply for a visa when they're only going to be in the airport for a few hours before catching another flight out of the country?

aoeu
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby aoeu » Sun May 26, 2013 8:29 am UTC

I'd guess it's because the US security checks are much stricter than what they have abroad. People might even have more fluids in their hand baggage than allowed.

In terms of just visa requirements, after you count in the all the waivers for various nationalities, I'm not convinced the US is that much stricter than any other other country.

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Angua
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Angua » Sun May 26, 2013 9:40 am UTC

You can have an additional security check for hand luggage when transferring - that is pretty easy.

The US is, in fact, a lot more strict when it comes to visas. We had a school trip to Spain, and the cheapest and easiest flights went via Puerto Rico. One girl had to travel separately because otherwise she would have had to fly to Barbados as she needed to have an in-person interview in order to get the visa required for a 2 hour layover.

So, not only does the US require a visa to go through their security, if you're from certain countries you can't even get it without going to their embassy (and not all countries have embassies, which especially screws over the small nations of the Caribbean who 1) are less likely to have their own embassy because they're small and 2) have a lot of flights which go via Puerto Rico or the US.
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby fizzgig » Thu May 30, 2013 4:10 am UTC

aoeu wrote:I'd guess it's because the US security checks are much stricter than what they have abroad. People might even have more fluids in their hand baggage than allowed.

In terms of just visa requirements, after you count in the all the waivers for various nationalities, I'm not convinced the US is that much stricter than any other other country.


Even if you come from a country that doesn't require a visa to travel to the US, you still need to complete an ESTA visa waiver and notify your airline of some personal details (I don't recall exactly which ones) before you fly. An ESTA only costs $13 and you can complete it online up to 72 hours before you travel, but that's more than any other country I've travelled to.*

*Anecdotal evidence only, obviously

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Diadem
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Diadem » Fri May 31, 2013 11:22 am UTC

I know a great many people who avoid the US like the plague whenever they are travelling. Not because of visas, but because of the draconian security measures. You have the supply them a lot of very personal information in advance, and during the transit if you are unlucky you'll be subjected to invasive searches or other random abuse.

I think the main reason the US does what they do is because they can. No other country in the world could get away with treating foreigners like that, so they don't.
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby AYC » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:26 am UTC

Diadem wrote:I think the main reason the US does what they do is because they can.

See: not switching to the metric system. :P

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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Carlington » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:51 am UTC

I didn't realise this actually happened, and to be honest, I'm shocked.
For the sake of comparison, last year I went on a backpacking trip. I flew from Sydney to Paris, via Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi on the way out, and via Abu Dhabi on the way back. Whilst in Europe, I visited France, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Spain. For those of you playing along at home, that nine separate countries. At Kuala Lumpur I even left the airport to take the train into the city while I waited for my connecting flight. At no point in this trip did I require a visa. I was actually really confused and slightly perturbed on arrival in France, because there was no security check (unless I messed up and entered Europe illegally...). They checked my passport, and that was it, I was off to baggage claim. Security coming back into Australia was tougher, and I live here!
So how can it be, then, that travelling through and to nine different countries requires less visas than transiting through one without leaving the airport?
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rieschen
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby rieschen » Sat Jun 08, 2013 11:45 am UTC

To be fair, you should probably count all Schengen member countries on that list as one country.

I had a similar experience in Malaysia as well - we transited Malaysia and Singapore on the way to Indonesia and back. Both went with no more formality than filling out a little white slip indicating that we were only transiting, which was all done aboard our flight, and then handled by the airline.

I'm not sure why the US has checks like this - I suppose it relays a feeling of safety, which might be difficult to argue against in the current political climate.

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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Angua » Sat Jun 08, 2013 12:24 pm UTC

The US has always been like that though - even before 9/11.

@Carlington - I don't think I've even been through a security check once I've entered a country. It's always just been passport control, then baggage claim, then customs which may or may not go through your bags.
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rieschen
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby rieschen » Sat Jun 08, 2013 1:38 pm UTC

I didn't know that! Curious. I wonder if the rules in other countries were always as "lax" as they are now and were gradually loosened, or whether it was always this way and the US tightened their security rules independently.

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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Carlington » Sat Jun 08, 2013 1:56 pm UTC

Angua, I had a brain-fart - by security check, I meant customs. And there didn't seem to be one when entering France. Which I found bizarre.
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Angua » Sat Jun 08, 2013 2:14 pm UTC

From my mum's experiences in international travel since the 70's, the only place she's encountered it like that has been the US.

Of course, that's only anecdotal from one person.

@Carlington - a lot of places (including the US) don't bother checking your bags unless you declare stuff, and then do random spot checks on people who don't declare (which, if you get in early or late enough often don't happen as they don't have enough staff). At home they do tend to search through your stuff, but rarely seems to happen in the US, Canada or UK as far as I've experienced.
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Carlington » Sat Jun 08, 2013 2:17 pm UTC

Fair enough. It was my first time travelling internationally, I was worried that I'd broken some law or something, or just missed a sign. Everybody was making customs out to be a huge, scary, big deal sort of thing.
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Diadem » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:43 pm UTC

Well it used to be. My grandparents traveled through the USSR back in the 70s. Customs there was a big deal, they went through every inch of their car and luggage. Though according to my grandparents they were very polite and kind while doing so.

These days customs into Europe can still be a pretty big deal, when traveling from some countries. Probably not Australia, but security is a lot tighter for non-Western countries, and especially countries that are known for drug trade. There have been some scandals in recent years over the treatment of visitors from the Dutch Antilles here at Schiphol (=Amsterdam) airport.
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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Hafting » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:25 pm UTC

Outchanter wrote:So what exactly is the point of making people apply for a visa when they're only going to be in the airport for a few hours before catching another flight out of the country?


Possibly because so many people want to smuggle themselves into the U.S? One way would be to get a transfer ticket, and then fail to transfer. Sneak out of the airport if you can, fake a medical condition, or get tossed from the connecting flight for mutterings about 'bombs'. Requiring a visa theoretically keeps undesirables out.

Also, the U.S. is big. Unlike smaller european countries, most of the travellers going to the U.S. have their destination there anyway. Airport restaurants probably wouldn't see that much more sales if transit trough USA was easier.

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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby rieschen » Tue Jun 11, 2013 5:53 am UTC

I wouldn't call the Schengen area a "smaller European country" - I'm pretty sure it's more populous than the US. Also, while statistics hold that most Schengen airports service pretty large percentages of international flights, a lot of these flights are within the area and are therefore - for Visa purposes - pretty much domestic.

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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby Outchanter » Tue Jun 11, 2013 11:29 pm UTC

Hafting wrote:Possibly because so many people want to smuggle themselves into the U.S? One way would be to get a transfer ticket, and then fail to transfer. Sneak out of the airport if you can, fake a medical condition, or get tossed from the connecting flight for mutterings about 'bombs'. Requiring a visa theoretically keeps undesirables out.

If people can "sneak out" of your airports without going through customs and immigration, I think you have bigger problems than people in transit.

The idea of sterile transit is that airports have a designated international area which contains everyone coming off international flights before going through immigration, and by allowing people to catch outgoing international flights from that area, you prevent them from needing to officially enter the US at all.

Hafting wrote:Airport restaurants probably wouldn't see that much more sales if transit trough USA was easier.

I'm pretty sure airline tickets are a larger source of income than airport meals. And if someone with a Canadian visa is flying from, say, Australia to Canada, and has the choice between:

$1500 direct flight to Canada on a Canadian airline
$1300 flight on a US airline which refuels in the US, requires $160 to apply for a visa, an hour to fill in visa forms and 2 hours of sitting in line at the US consulate for an interview.

They'll probably choose the Canadian flight.

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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby DanD » Wed Jun 12, 2013 3:41 pm UTC

Only a guess, but the primary destination of flights from the typical airport may have something to do with it, especially during the infancy of air travel (so treating the Schengen area as separate countries). The vast majority of flights leaving from a US airport arrive at a US destination, and in fact, many of our airports don't offer any international flights, so they have no customs facilities at all. Thus, even if there weren't bureaucratic issues, only a relatively small proportion of the travelers arriving on an international flight are connecting to an international destination.

Almost all other countries have international destinations served by every single airport, and a significant percentage of through travelers are connecting to another international destination. The only possible exceptions I can think of are Russia, China, and Australia, and I wouldn't bet on them.

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Re: Sterile Transit - why doesn't the US have it?

Postby idobox » Mon Jun 24, 2013 4:10 pm UTC

Seen from Europe, I think it has to do more with the US government's love for tracking people.

When I take a connecting flight anywhere in the world, the government of the connecting airport probably knows that I flew from and to there, and that's all. If my connection is in USA, I have to give them a lot more information.

Likewise, I'm pretty sure I can't be arrested in the international zone of an airport for minor stuff, so if I "forgot" to pay a few thousands dollars worth of taxes in Canada, and want to fly through Montreal from Paris to Hawaii, I'm safe. If I did the same stunt in the US, I would have to avoid landing in NY or LA.

I don't think other countries don't do all that shit just for our sake, but because they want to save time and money by removing non essential passport checks.
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