On my recent trip to the US, I was faced with a three-hour wait at immigration on arrival. I had bounded out of the business-class cabin expecting to avoid any delays, but what faced me was a queue of hundreds of people snaking around the immigration hall in the non-US citizen queue.
The queue, which was full of Mexicans, Swedes, Germans, Brits (you name it we were all there in huge numbers) was under a very low roof, which meant that on a 26˚C degree day and with hundreds of bodies, it soon became very hot. Eventually a customs agent who was escorting an airline agent* through the queue, realised how hot it was under the low roof and called for aliens to go through the US channel, but only after two hours of queuing. As it was, many of the positions were closed and US passport holders seemed to be flying through. All in all I was there for 2 hours and 35 minutes!
The consequences of long delays in Immigration is more than just loss of someone’s time – missed connections and business meetings, additional charges for a waiting car service to name a few.
What about those people who might have a long drive on arrival? Delays add onto their journey time, which could mean they are in danger of fatigue. If business travellers were fitted with a tachograph, like other industries do with their drivers, would they be deemed fit and able to get to their final destination? This provides food for thought for travel managers who have a duty of care towards their travellers’ safety and wellbeing.
As non-US citizens, we have already paid for an ESTA and input our API information so some checks must have been done before our expected arrival. While there is a matter of national security it is also a lasting memory of your trip, standing melting for hours in a queue reminiscent of the days of Ellis Island. With further cuts looming on the US government’s agenda - will travellers only see fewer immigration agents and more long queues and empty booths? Surely the US government needs to address this kind of delay. Foreign nationals – business people and tourists alike – arriving into their country need to be welcomed to the land of the free with open arms.
That said, on arriving into Heathrow on Saturday, the UK passport holder queue was relatively fast moving BUT there was a long queue for non-EC passport holders... our government needs to review our situation too obviously!
(*Well done to American Airlines, who were the only airline to send out someone to find their passengers and advise them what their next connection was – the majority of people transiting had missed their flights with the delay.)