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Testing my patience - US immigration queues

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Mystery Buyer
Mystery Buyer's picture
Testing my patience - US immigration queues

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.)

JJames
JJames's picture
barriers to business

It seems the US government is not the only one losing revenues by putting up barriers to business. This BBT article shows concerns around UK Plc losing out because the govt makes it so difficult for Chinese & Indian business people to get their visas to visit http://buyingbusinesstravel.com/news/2820645-gtmc-2013-uk-plc-under-threat

Suite Talker
Suite Talker's picture
miami vice

I know travellers and travel managers are keen to find competitive routes to South America via Europe – eg Amsterdam and Madrid, to avoid the rigmarole of  being put through the full immigration mangle in Miami etc – they find this particularly annoying has they have no wish to be in the US, & are merely there because of a connecting flight. But as you point out JJ – there are similar problems for transiting passengers in the UK

Rosy (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
Visa
Have you tried getting a visa to India? Completing the form and bureacracy is the most painful experience that puts us off investing there.
Chris Fincham (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
delays
Utterly ridiculous, this is why I always people to consider the train option !
The Maverick (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
JFK queues still a problem
I flew into JFK in New York a few weeks ago and the queue through immigration took over an hour - even on a Saturday. It didn't help that there were only a handful of booths open at the time. I can't see things getting much better with all the budget cuts in the US - although they soon sorted out the air traffic control cutbacks and found some extra cash for those guys when there was a lot of bad publicity...
Ralf Squires
Ralf Squires's picture
There are many US entry

There are many US entry points with this problem. A recent piece in the Independent Newspaper

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/heading-for-america-prepare-for-the-longest-us-immigration-queues-ever-8621576.html

by SImon Calder said that although Miami was the worst airport with an average wait in April of three hours, six minutes, travellers to New York JFK, and Dallas-Fort Worth were risking waits exceeding two hours. Having said that, it talked about a "Maximum average wait", whatever that means.

Eventually they will do something about it, simply because otherwise people will stop travelling - I;m sure that's happening with leisure traffic. In fact, I was told by one leisure operator that they have switched the airport they fly into (from Orlando International to Sanford Orlando) because of the queues - though since it was a charter, that was easier to do. 

chris templar (not verified)
Anonymous's picture
what airport
so what us airport was this queue at ?

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