One of the perks of flying in premium cabins or having elite status is that it gives you immigration fast track access in some countries/airports. For some, this will come in the form of a card that airplane crews will pass out to the eligible passengers while for others this will simply be your boarding pass and/or your elite card. It is designed to help you breeze through the immigration/passport control area quicker than going through the general lines. But, that is not always the case! Sometimes it can be even faster to use the other access points.
Immigration Fast Track – Not Always The Fastest
I am a habitual road-not-taken watcher. Whether I am in a grocery store line or an airport line, I always pick out the person(s) who entered a separate line from me at the same time and track them as their line moves. This way, I know if I chose the proper line. Most of the time it does little than make me happy for my choice or really frustrated with my choice, depending on the speed of my unsuspecting “companion” in the line process.
From doing this at many airports, I have found that there are times that utilizing the immigration fast track access allowed me because of the cabin I am flying in or the elite status I hold is sometimes not the fastest way to clear immigration. Here are a few of the airports/situations I have encountered this at over the last few months. Note: these are given as my personal experiences and may not reflect everyone else’s experiences, even with the same airlines and airports.
London – Etihad First Class
Win for Fast Track
While flying into London as a passenger aboard Etihad’s First Class cabin, I was given a fast track card and able to use the fast track lane. This was not even close – this line was much shorter and moved much quicker than any general line I may have entered and is definitely useful in an airport like London’s Heathrow. By all means, take advantage of any fast access anything that you can get at this airport! 🙂
Dubai – Turkish Airlines Business/Elite
Win for General Lines
I have entered Dubai a few times and each time was able to take advantage of their fast track lane. However, I am not sure why I continue to use it! Each time I have been in it, the other passengers that I picked out as entering the general lines at the same time as I entered made it through quite a bit faster than I did. The biggest problem here is that the lines reserved for fast track customers are limited while there are many general lines. If there are a lot of fast track passengers (which, being Dubai, there are quite a few), the general lines may move quicker since there are so many.
Sydney – Etihad First Class
Win for Smart Gate (did not use the fast track pass)
It had been a while since I had been to Australia and was expecting to use the fast track card provided to me by Etihad. However, thanks to Australia’s electronic entry kiosks (Smart Gate), I ended up going this way instead (at the suggestion of an official in the vicinity). Having been through the fast track lanes the last times I was there, I can tell you that unless they just wave at me as I pass through, it would not have been faster than the kiosks. It was about as quick as using Global Entry and definitely the way to move through quickly. Note: you must have an electronic chip in your passport to use these machines. All US passports issued in recent years have these chips. For more information about Australia’s Smart Gate system and passenger eligibility, click here.
Cairo – Star Alliance Gold
Win for Fast Track
In Cairo’s airport, you have to go first to get your visa stamp that you purchase from one of the many windows and then go through the passport control lines. Since Cairo is the hub for EgyptAir, a Star Alliance carrier, they have a special line for Star Alliance Gold members (as well as other premium cabin travelers). Surprisingly, my two visits there in just a few weeks had very few people in the fast track lane and it moved very fast. Definitely the way to go there! Plus, it is great since you can be in economy and just need Star Alliance Gold status to access it! Leaving the country is another story – be prepared to not let groups of people cut you in the fast track line! 🙂
As you can see, it can be a time saver to simply observe the lines as you approach the immigration areas in airports – even if you have access to the fast track lines. If you are in a hurry, just taking a moment to check the lines (especially the lines way over near the walls that do not look open) can save you some valuable time.
This just gives you an idea to not just accept your fast track access as the best way to transit through the immigration lines. What airports/fast track access lines have you found to take a little longer than you would have thought?