Thought Leadership

Just passing through and not spilling a drop …

By Colin Walls

First off, a puzzle for you. I am sitting at a table on US soil. But the bar I just visited expects payment in Euros. Where am I? …

GThe picture to the right might give a clue – though I appreciate that this beverage may be purchased in many countries. I am in the obvious place: Dublin, Ireland. Well, actually, Dublin Airport, but that is close. So, this begs the question: how come I said that I am in the US? The answer is slightly complicated.

To travel to the US, the simplest thing that I can do is travel to one of London’s big airports [Heathrow or Gatwick], from where I could get a direct flight to many places. I am heading to Boston and that would be no problem. However, traveling to these airports takes a lot of time and, when I get there, they are big and ugly and stressful. I much prefer to fly from my local airport – Birmingham. This is a good way to get to most of Europe, but I think the only direct flights to the US are a once a day service to Newark, which is no use to me. However, I can get an indirect flight via Dublin, which is sensibly priced and quite straightforward. It also has a secret benefit: US Immigration Pre-clearance.

I have traveled to the US on countless occasions over the years – I am guessing 60-70 times. It is a very familiar process and it has its good and bad points. A real negative is passing through Immigration on arrival. This involves joining a line – sometimes a very long line. The wait can be as little as 30 minutes, but I have been there well over 2 hours! This is no fun after, say, a 10 hour flight. A friend of mine was doing this and felt unwell, so she sat down. Security guys told her that this was not allowed. She explained her situation and was whisked to the front of the line. I have considered the idea of, next time I am stuck in such a line, encouraging everyone to sit down to draw attention to our collective discomfort.

The wonderful thing about pre-clearance in Dublin is that I could go through the formalities during my lay-over. Better still: because they are well organized and my timing was good, the whole process took just a few minutes. When I arrive in Boston, it will like I have arrived on a domestic flight. This is because they have declared an area of Dublin Airport US soil. I am concerned that this will spread to larger and larger parts of Europe … 🙂

There are a couple of downsides. First, there is no duty free sales on the aircraft – I do not care about that. The other problem is that, having arrived in the gate area, I have time to kill with very limited catering facilities [although signs promise an improvement soon]. However, I could get a [very expensive!] sandwich etc. and they sell the “Black Stuff”.

I was proud of myself, as I walked back to my table with a pint filled to the brim. I did not spill a drop. I was taught how to do this many years ago, when I was a kid, by my Great Uncle Cyril. He was a kind of surrogate grandfather, who taught me many useful things. One day, we were on a ship, as we had been on a day trip somewhere, and it was rolling a bit. He went to the bar to get some drinks and I accompanied him. We were heading back to the rest of the family and the conversation went something like this:

Me: How can you carry those drinks without spilling them?
Cyril: Just watch. The trick is to not look.

He walked with the glasses in each hand in front of him, looking straight ahead. And he did not spill a drop. Somehow the human body has a stabilization mechanism that makes this work. I have found that it does the job on dry land too.


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at