Andy McKay

Jul 21, 2006

More US customs fun


Regular readers may remember posts on ZopeZen about my fun at US Customs. I have a tale to tell about my latest trip... I'm writing it in the US though so I should probably be wearing my tin hat to stop them intercepting my signals. I was on my way to Houston to do training.


Now bear in mind I've flown to and from Houston about a dozen times over the last year sometimes with incident, but always allowed through. For the past year I've had no problems at all since I got my business card fixed (an old one gave a Houston address, that caused confusion).

Tuesday 1pm: arrive at the airport. Go through customs. The chap there starts the conservation and within about 3 lines gets to the question - "Are you aware you need a visa to do this?" to which I answer "No". I get sent to the back room. So wait patiently and politely for about 45 minutes. At this point I get a sinking feeling that I might be running late for my flight.

Only about 25 minutes left. We run through the usual questions, why, who, how much. The customs agent then gives me a choice, he will allow me to withdraw my application or he can refuse me. If its the latter I will be banned from crossing the border for 5 years he explains.

At this I get flustered, not understanding how I've been able to cross the border over a dozen times for the exact same reason, with the exact same answers to the questions. His reply "I can't help it if my colleagues are incompetent". Flabbergasted he spends 10 minutes typing and then explains what I need to get and how to get it. Of course the problem is my flight is now leaving in 2 minutes. I'm screwed - thanks a lot mate.

 What follows is mad panic of phone calls to arrange a stand in, since after 1 hour I find there is only one flight that will get me in before the training is due to start. No-one from Continental is there to purchase a ticket from so thats a 6 hour wait for maybe a ticket. Time to give up.

So I get a flight for the next day with the required (and very basic and easy to get documentation). The flight attendant accidentally tickets me through to San Diego, not Houston. Tired and annoyed I don't notice and get a taxi home, returning home 5 hours after I started. Wednesday morning: A mad flurry of printing out letters from Enfold, my resume, amazon book page, anything else relevant. Get signed copies of letters. Of course the visa costs exactly $50 US in cash (nothing else allowed), so a quick trip to the bank is needed.

Leave so I will arrive at the airport 3 hours early.

Wednesday lunch time: Go to customs. I have all my paperwork in order and I'm prepared for a second run. The customs agent looks my t-shirt which declares ".NET meets Darwin". It's a t-shirt I got a few years ago at a trade show. No idea what it is about really, I think the projecst is dead.
".NET meets Darwin, I don't get it." "It's a Microsoft meets Apple project." "Darwin is Apple? Never heard of it." "Oh its one of the layers underneath OS X." "Oh you are a Microsoft guy, other people call it OS Ten." "Well I am kinda wierd." "I've got lots of Mac's - love them, deciding about a new MacBook."
...etc. About 3 minutes later I've recommended a MacBook and told him to watch out for the glossy screen. Then he hands me my passes my passport back and says "Have a good day". Never once asks me who, why or how much. My paperwork is left untouched.

Was I just lucky? Did my t-shirt save the day? What the hell? I was so tempted to get all my paperwork out and get a damn visa! Why are they so damn inconsistent? Not getting through the day before cost everyone a lot of time money and effort, to keep some customs agent happy.

 Wednesday 3pm: Flight is delayed 1.5 hours. But wait my boarding card for my connecting flight from Denver says San Diego - not Houston. I go and ask - they reticket me to Houston. And promise to chase down my bag. Unfortunately I will arrive in Denver too late for my connection. Chances are I won't make it, the ticket agent offers to get me on a flight tommorrow. I think the look I gave him got him off that idea. Caught plane to Denver.

Wednesday 8pm: Thank god the 6 pm Denver - Houston flight is delayed 3 hours and there is room so I hop on that one. Seems all of United Airlines is running late that day.

Thursday 1am: No luggage in Houston. My luggage is in Denver. Thursday 5pm: My luggage "Cannot be found by United" Friday noon: My luggage is in Chicago. I fly home tonight at 9pm. Fingers crossed.

Update: got home sucessfully.

Friday night: My luggage is in Houston (arrives 4 hours after I leave)

Sunday night: My luggage arrives back at home.