China Now Tells Airlines on Day of Departure if Passengers Can Fly

China now tells U.S. airlines whether or not China-bound U.S. citizens are allowed to board their flights.

Airlines are already responsible for verifying a passenger’s documents to ensure they’re eligible for entry into their destination country. Does the passenger have a visa, if required? Do they have a return ticket? No airline wants to be on the hook for sending a passenger back to their home country. They also don’t want to incur fines, either.

What’s new is an Interactive Advanced Passenger Information system (iAPI) that airlines are using. The system asks the Chinese government for permission to allow each of its passengers onto its China-bound flights. This system is also be used to determine whether a passenger is allowed to leave China.

According to an internal company memo, American Airlines brought this system online September 20th.

The iAPI program is designed to interactively provide passenger and flight information to China’s National Immigration Agency (NIA) for security screening purposes when passport data has been entered.

Once received, the NIA will evaluate the information and provide authorization to board the passenger travelling on flights arriving into and departing China.

This program allows China NIA to:

  • Provide a cleared/not cleared status so agents will know whether or not to
    proceed with checking in the customer
  • Identify customers requiring additional document checks before boarding

The U.S. government insists on this too. They’d rather stop people before reaching the U.S. rather than turning them away once they’re here. It’s no surprise other countries want this capability.

Think of this as verifying an electronic travel authority for Australia or New Zealand. American’s system even treats it the same way: “China iAPI will use the same QIK entries as Australia and New Zealand APP/IAPI on CTRL+W, F5, Option 1.”

This is the result of Bush and Obama administrations using aftermath of 9/11 to grow the security state.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The US does this kind of thing (of remote denial of travel) even to some US citizens with proof of US citizenship/identity in the form of a US passport. Does China do this against some Chinese citizens wanting to fly to China? It wouldn’t surprise me.

  2. @GUWonder: Who do they do that to? I thought SCOTUS has made it clear that the US cannot keep a citizen exiled and must admit them in to the United States when requested. They can detain them if there is a warrant or reason for arrest, but they cannot deny a US citizen entry.

  3. I had an interesting experience where some people with TSA Precheck on US-bound boarding passes were ending up as selectees (for additional searches) despite not being DHS selectees (and not having SSSS boarding passes). At one Schengen airport, this meant being taken to a back room and then, behind closed doors, having the passengers’ cabin bags and shoes subject to ETD swabs. Weirdest thing of all was that when I got ahold of the passenger list being used by the security contractors to keep track of the selectees on the given flight, I noticed that only one of the people I saw get this treatment was not on the pre-printed list of selectees and had to be manually written in by the security contractor after the passenger was directed to the closed room for this screening and already there. The passenger who was the only hand-written inclusion on the list of selectees for additional gate area screening had a PreCheck boarding pass and was the only passenger who was neither of European ethnic appearance nor a resident of the European country.

  4. Ben,

    Recognized US citizens are admissible to the US if they reach a US port of entry, but the US can and does try and to frustrate the travel of some such US citizens wanting to go back to the US. There are different ways to do this: no-fly blacklisting; otherwise kicking back “do not board” instructions to the airline for which the passenger has a ticket; electronically invalidate the US passport in one or more ways; get foreign law enforcement/security services to frustrate/deny the travel of such US citizen abroad.

    If the US citizen can’t reach a US port of entry, the rights of the US citizen to be back in the US can be frustrated by and/or on behalf of the US Government.

  5. I know I am only passing through Hong Kong to change flights in the spring. Would their be a chance that China stops me in the airport if they were not a fan of me or is it highly unlikely since I am not going through customs? I am a tad worried with things changing in Hong Kong.

  6. Gary. Interesting article.

    Generally, anyone that wants to complain about the way immigration treats USA citizens returning to the USA does not get any argument from me. I remember being sent to secondary after a 4 day mileage run to Macau, despite having Global Entry. They scanned my bag and found a book. I am guessing they were looking for another type of paper, cash (civil forfeiture). Since they did not find anything, I was free to go.

    However, I am not sure it is worse than other countries.

  7. @GUwonder

    Precheck means nothing internationally, and security is handled by the home airport authority prior to any preclearance(which only certain airports have). Not sure what your story has to do with anything

  8. bhcompy,

    PreCheck boarding passes internationally (for US-bound flights) has meant something; and it has meant that a person having a PreCheck boarding pass for flights had meant won’t get a haraSSSSment flagging and was way less likely to get the selectee type additional screening. This was true whether it is at US airports where US DHS/TSA was doing the primary and/or additional screening or it is at non-US airports where US DHS/TSA mandates how airport security screening be done for passengers on US-bound planes (even for planes that are not US airline-operated).

    Security screening for international flights to the US are handled by just more than the home airport authority. The security screenings for US-bound flights at the international (non-US) airports are also handled by the airline/airline’s security contractors and are subject to US DHS’s requirements (including TSA requirements/inspections) — whether or not US DHS/TSA has screeners or not at an airport location. US-bound flights’ operators must comply with US security screening demands set up by the US Government whether or not the CBP/TSA is on site abroad at the time of the flight.

    This situation with China shows that the international flight “security” infrastructure set up directly or indirectly on behalf of the US Government eventually also gets to be used by other countries — including used by authoritarian states that may become ever more totalitarian in nature as the technology infrastructure deployed to meet a government “security” demand/requirement becomes more robust and adopted more broadly.

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