Airports that cross international borders



By Miquel Ros, CNN

Those who brave international travel in the age of Covid face an ever-changing maze of rules and restrictions.

If you want to avoid being stranded for two weeks, you’d better check that your documents are in order before crossing an international border. Even more so if your destination is one of a handful of airports where you might get lost in the wrong country if you’re not careful getting off the plane.

The following airports, or at least some of them, are managed by more than one country, which gives a whole new dimension to the term “international” airport.

Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (BSL)

The Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (top photo) is, unusually, an airport designed from the ground up as a binational facility.

Located right next to where the borders of France, Switzerland and Germany meet, as the name suggests, Euroairport serves three different cities: Basel (Switzerland), Mulhouse (France) and Freiburg (Germany). Of these, Basel is the largest of the three and also the closest to the airport, which is reflected in its IATA code, BSL.

Although the airport is entirely on French territory, Switzerland enjoys certain extraterritorial rights thanks to a special bilateral treaty which makes Euroairport, in many respects, a Swiss and French airport. Since the 1980s, the German authorities have also been represented in certain airport governance bodies.

Concretely, this means that there is a French sector and a Swiss sector, with a cut in the middle of the terminal. Each sector has its own border and customs checkpoints, staffed with officers from the respective countries.

The airport, however, remains on French sovereign territory and French police forces are in charge of overall security.

Switzerland’s entry into the European Union’s Schengen visa area has narrowed this gap and, since 2008, it has been possible to travel unhindered between the two sectors on the city side.

Most of the terminal’s services are available in their French or Swiss version depending on which part of the establishment you are in.

Stores and cafes in the French sector trade in euros, while their counterparts across the hall take Swiss francs (the prices and brands available also match those in their respective countries). And although seldom used nowadays, telephone booths and letter boxes have also reflected this national divide for many years.

Travelers to Switzerland can reach Basel by a special route that crosses French territory but is exempt from border checkpoints as it is covered by the provisions of a bilateral treaty which allows Swiss city buses to reach the terminal. .

These provisions were recently put to the test when France and Switzerland put in place different entry conditions related to Covid. At times during the pandemic, travelers entering France, for example, were required to be tested, while Switzerland did not require testing but imposed quarantines. The problem was solved by physically segregating travelers to Switzerland for the duration of these measures.

“We are a cross-border cooperation laboratory,” explains Claire Freudenberger, head of external communication at Euroairport, to CNN Travel.

Geneva (GVA)

Geneva airport, also informally known by its old name Cointrin, is entirely on Swiss soil, but only a short distance away. The edge of its track is close to the French border. The sharp right-angle turns that the border takes along the perimeter of the airport are, in fact, not random.

When, in the 1950s, the Swiss authorities wanted to extend the runway at the airport, the only possible option was to do so on French territory.

The case was settled by the signing of an international treaty by which France and Switzerland exchanged parcels of land of equivalent size. The Swiss could extend the runway and, in exchange, granted France the use of part of the airport.

The so-called “French sector”, which is linked to the French “mainland” by a dedicated route, allows French travelers to embark on flights to Paris and a handful of other French destinations without having to go through Swiss customs. .

Although the entire facility remains Swiss sovereign territory, companies in the French sector negotiate in euros and apply French sales tax.

Since Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, but not of the EU Customs Union, French customs also operate at the terminal.

A joint committee made up of high-level representatives from both sides of the border meets at least once a year to deal with any matter relating to these international agreements.

“The French sector is currently limited to four boarding gates, which can sometimes be a bit restrictive.

“Switzerland’s entry into Schengen has opened up new possibilities; for example, we are studying the possibility of moving from a physical design of the French sector to a design based on the operational needs of the airport at each moment, “Gaël Poget, director of international and government affairs at the airport, told CNN Travel. Geneva airport.

Cross-border Xpress (CBX)

The wall that runs along large sections of the US-Mexico border has received extensive media coverage. What is less well known, however, is that at some point you can walk on it, as long as you have a boarding pass.

As of 2016, the $ 120 million Cross Border Xpress (CBX) terminal connects the Otay Mesa district of San Diego, California to the main terminal at Tijuana International Airport through a pedestrian overpass.

The CBX allows travelers to check-in for their flights on US soil, then cross the border to the boarding gate in Mexico. Ticket prices start at $ 16 one-way across the bridge, which in 2019 recorded nearly 3 million transits.

Gibraltar International Airport (GIB)

While the previous airports on this list are examples of international cooperation, Gibraltar remains a much more contentious case, given the ongoing sovereignty dispute between the UK and Spain over this British overseas territory.

Gibraltar Airport was built just before WWII on the edge of the Isthmus of Gibraltar, a few meters from the Spanish border and on land which Spain claimed was not included in the Treaty of Gibraltar. ‘Utrecht, by which the rock was ceded to Great Britain.

In 2006, during a temporary thaw in relations centered on the Cordoba Accord, the United Kingdom and Spain agreed that the new Gibraltar airport terminal would be accessible from the Spanish side and it was even question of the possibility of a joint venture to operate certain services. at the terminal.

However, none of these initiatives succeeded. Only the UK part of the terminal has been completed (it became operational in 2012), so travelers from Spain must go through the main border post adjacent to the terminal to access the airport.

The dispute also affects the airspace of Gibraltar, whose inclusion in the proposed Single European Sky initiative remains blocked by Spain. However, direct flights between Gibraltar and Spanish airports are possible, subject to an agreement between the United Kingdom and Spain. Spain’s national airline, Iberia, operated a route from Gibraltar to Madrid for a few years, but it was discontinued in 2008.

“The current situation vis-à-vis Brexit and the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union could effectively render the Cordoba agreement null and void, as other options are being explored between Gibraltar, the United Kingdom , Spain and the EU, but these negotiations are currently at a very early stage, ”a source at the airport told CNN Travel.

US airports at the Canadian border

The northern border of the United States is also overlapped by several airport facilities.

When, in 1846, the United States and Great Britain finally settled on the 49th parallel for the border between the United States and Canada, they could not anticipate the future needs of the yet-to-be-born aviation industry. .

The longest stretch of border in the world, continuous in a straight line, crosses the terrains of six different airfields as it travels from the Great Lakes to the Pacific.

To be fair, the “airport” label is a bit of a stretch here, since most of these airfields are little more than an unpaved runway in the middle of the meadows. However, they remain entry points subject to the formalities of cross-border travel.

Let’s see where they are, from west to east.

Champ Avey, Washington

Have only four permanent residents (based on 2020 U.S. Census data) did not prevent the small outpost of Laurier, Washington, from boasting its own “international” airport.

The fact that the tip of its gravel runway extends 500 feet into Canadian territory ensures that a good portion of the 800 movements recorded at Avey Field is an international flight.

The US and Canadian customs facilities are located adjacent to the runway.

Del Bonita / Whetstone International Airport, Montana

This is one of a series of airports whose unpaved runways lie, literally, on the border.

Owned and operated by the State of Montana, Del Bonita / Whetstone International Airport is also accessible from the Canadian side.

There is a customs post at the west end of the airfield.

Coronach / Scobey Border Station Airport, MT

Here is another trail that runs exactly along the border. Coronach / Scobey border station The aerodrome should not be confused with the Scobey 9S2 airport located a few kilometers further south and with a paved runway.

This airport is classified as an official port of entry by Canada, although the grand total of 10 operations it handled during the year 2019 surely does not give much work to the staff of the adjacent border post.

Coutts / Ross International Airport, Montana

Aircraft can access the unpaved runway at Coutts / Ross Airfield from the United States and Canada, as the border cuts it in the middle.

Traffic here is also minimal, with less than a dozen movements per year (according to 2019 data).

Peace Garden International Airport, North Dakota

Aptly named after a nearby park that was established in 1932 to celebrate the friendship between Canada and the United States, most of the Peace Garden International Airport, including the runway and main facilities, is located on American soil.

However, part of the apron extends to the Canadian side of the border, allowing aircraft to operate to and from Canada as well.

Piney-Pinecreek Border Airport, Minnesota

The double-barreled name of Piney-Pinecreek refers to the joint use of the airport by the cities of Pinecreek, Minnesota, and Piney, Manitoba.

Unlike neighboring airports, this one has an asphalt runway that once stopped just before the border. It was the need in the 1970s to extend the runway to accommodate larger machines that led the airport to crawl north (the southern perimeter was already delimited by an existing road), becoming, in the process, a binational airport.

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