I’ve traveled out of the country enough times to have a really good idea of how Immigration/Customs/Border Patrol works. I’ve also gone to the airport to pick up friends who are coming in from overseas, so I’ve had experience from that end, as well. And there’s one thing that just drives me insane, yet it would be so simple to fix if the Border Patrol people put just a little bit of thought into it…
You never know how long the Customs wait is going to be.
Among other countries, I’ve been to Cuba, Japan, England, Austria, Ireland, France, Canada, Australia, Mexico and, of course, back to the U.S. And with the exception of returning to the U.S. in recent years (thank-you, Global Entry!), I never know if my wait at Customs is going to be two minutes or two hours or somewhere in between.
Why is this important information to know?
- I don’t know if I should stop at the nearest restroom before standing on the queue to get into the country.
- I don’t know if I should eat a snack because it’s going to be a long wait, or if I should hold out because we’re going to have lunch soon, since we’ll only be on line for a couple of minutes.
- It simply gives people a sense of control, in a situation where they have very little of it, if they have some idea of how much time it’s going to take.
In fact, until you get to the Customs line, there is NOTHING to give you a hint of what the wait will be. And then, even when you’re IN the line, unless you’ve been in that line before, you have no idea how long the queue at Heathrow that goes back and forth 15 times before you get to see a Customs agent will take (psst! 90 minutes, almost on the dot).
The same thing goes for when I pick people up at the airport. I had friends from the U.K. whose plane was scheduled to land at 5:30pm and we had plans for me to pick them up. I got to the airport at 5:45pm and just sat there until they came out…a little after 7:15pm! My friends couldn’t contact me to let me know the queue was long (cuz we found out what happens if you try to use your phone in the secure area) or that their bags were delayed in coming out because of “reasons” (in the summertime MCO essentially shuts down every afternoon because of thunderstorms. But if you’re in the middle of the terminal, there are no windows to see what the weather is like. If there’s a particularly loud clap of thunder, that’s your only clue that it’s raining outside). And it’s not like I would leave my house any later, because they’ve sometimes been lucky and gotten out of Immigration in just 15 minutes.
In the U.S., they do have a website that lists wait times – but it only talks about past dates, and only gives an average wait time and a max wait time. Knowing that the wait was anywhere from 38 to 94 minutes 4 days ago isn’t going to help a whole helluva lot.
You would think that Border Patrol and the airport could work together to give people an idea, in real time, of how long the wait at Customs is going to be. I mean, airports already tell us roughly how long the wait to get through the security checkpoint is going be – so obviously they have some sort of formula to figure out times. Why can’t they devise something similar so people leaving the plane, people entering the queue and people waiting for them on the other side can all have an idea of how long the wait is going to be?
Who can I write to so they work on this and make it happen? 😉
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary