Immigration Kerfuffle

October 7, 2008

in Airport Stories

Arriving in the USA has always been a security nightmare, much worse now when, despite notices telling you that the staff guarantee a courteous and pleasant welcome (???). This certainly wasn’t in evidence when we arrived in Atlanta on a flight from Manchester UK (23 Sept 2008). We had 1.5 hours to connect for a flight in Tampa and actually arrived 15 minutes early – brilliant, until we were stuck in a queue for an immigration officer who was determined to process 1 application for every other 5 officers. After 3/4 hour we were getting concerned and approached a member of the staff who shrugged and told us to get another plane if we missed our connection.

The guy at the desk then stood up and asked if we had a problem and we knew we were in for it. When we finally got to the desk he drank his coffee, counted his packets of sugar, joked with his colleague in front and then started asking the most inane questions, like, why did I have an Irish passport when my husband was English, (is this a crime?), why did we have a US visa, (well the staff at the US Embassy in London had already sorted that one), did we plan on driving anywhere on our holiday, why were we going to Florida. We know from experience that you don’t make jokes, don’t smile, don’t make eye contact, but this was ridiculous.

Ten minutes later when he’d obviously run out of delaying tactics we were running to security where for some reason I set off alarms, despite having no shoes, no jacket or jewelry. Again I was shouted at, stay behind the screen, stand, put your feet on the marks. I was asked to sit and hold up both my feet, and did I have an implant (no, but the officer certainly needed a personality transplant). After a further humiliating 10 minutes being shouted at loudly (they think that if they put “ma’am” at the end of the tirade, it’s O.K.), I was allowed to join my husband on the other side of the screen. One fellow passenger had watched this with horror and commented on how I was treated as I was frantically trying to gather my belongings. I wasn’t even allowed to put on my shoes in the area.

We followed directions given by a member of staff, me running in my bare feet, to the wrong gate, and then had to run back after a much kinder member of staff rang Delta for us. The gate had been changed. We got to the gate as it was closing but were allowed on board. So the next time you complain of sweaty, breathless, disheveled senior passengers boarding at the last minute – think on, especially if you’re in Atlanta whose staff has to be probably the rudest, most arrogant bunch. And yes, I also worked with the public but I was taught to be polite and respectful, and save my moans to swap with my colleagues. In all the kerfuffle I realized that I’d left my wristwatch behind in one of the baskets at security, not an expensive one but sentimental in value, which one of the staff must have noticed, I was there long enough. I hope your wrist turns green and your hand drops off if you are wearing it.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

John Davidson October 15, 2008 at 4:46 am

Just ask to take down the immigration official's badge number, say you have a (close) relative who's a U.S. citizen whom you're visiting, and you'd like to be able to tell that citizen's elected officials in Congress about the behavior of the customs/immigration people. That will usually get you through quite fast.


ruru October 29, 2008 at 12:46 pm

good point. I realize sometimes some people can be annoying and demanding (I have seen enough of them) but I believe airline/airport people are obligated not to abuse their position after all they chose to work in the "service" industry they need to deal with it. even if we all know they did because they couldn't find any other better paying job who are we kidding?


Anonymous April 2, 2009 at 10:11 am

dumbass, check the monitors. your fault for going to the wrong gate.


Amit April 2, 2009 at 10:48 am

Definitely ignore the previous dumbass comment. After going through that ordeal, I can understand why you neglected to check the monitors, especially since one of the staff members told you to go that way.


Free to Recline April 2, 2009 at 5:02 pm

I live in Atlanta and travel extensively. Coming home is always the worst. Southern hospitality my ass…


Venky April 3, 2009 at 4:04 am

Well.. this is a firsty for sure.. I always thought it was the asian "brownies" who got all the second class experience.. I have been the "victim" of several "random" security checks when i was the only asian in the fray.


Anonymous April 3, 2009 at 7:32 am

I've flown into Atlanta from overseas many times, and it is pretty terrible, even for an American citizen. I would hate to go through customs as a foreign citizen.


Jim April 3, 2009 at 7:43 am

If the coward treated Americans that way in a random way, it would be just a matter of time before he would be unemployed. If you were determined to catch another flight, you should have called him on his behavior, took his badge number, and insisted on speaking to his supervisor. With all those people watching, he would be a fool to continue behaving the way he did.



Dan April 3, 2009 at 11:19 am

After being out of the US for a year traveling through Australia and Europe I had the pleasant opportunity to see the "back room" at immigration in Dulles. The large immigration officer made sure my homecoming was one I would not soon forget. All because I had visited Amsterdam during my stay in Europe. So, no it is not just the "asian brownies" who get the royal treatment. I am as white and preppy as they come and the officer still got to third base and he didn't even buy me dinner…


MB April 3, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Ugh. I live in Atlanta and customs at that airport is such a bitch! I spend at least in hour in line every time I return from overseas. Everything is very disorganized there.


JK April 9, 2009 at 6:32 am

Since no one else has had the courage to say it, I will. I am so sorry you had such a horrible experience at a US airport. Not all Americans are like that, though after this experience, I wouldn't blame you for suspecting they are. I hope you come back to the US soon and if you do, you should come through Indianapolis instead of Atlanta if you can. Hoosiers know how to treat people with kindness and courtesy (and they have a brand new terminal that is super-clean and beautiful!).

Happier travels to you!


NavyChick27 June 3, 2009 at 5:35 am

I'm in the Military and STILL can't get any service or civility out of the people at the Atlanta Airport. I HATE that place with a Passion, yet EVERY TIME I try to fly home to Florida I get routed through there! I'll be flying throught there Next month so be on the look out for a story from me.

I Hope that your future travels are happier.


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