Home Airports This Is Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Phone In The Secure Area When Entering The U.S.

This Is Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Phone In The Secure Area When Entering The U.S.

by joeheg

Getting off of an international flight has its own set of unique rules that are different for every country. For example, I was surprised when I saw that the United Kingdom allows you to use your cell phone while waiting in line to clear passport control, which was nice since the line at Heathrow for non-UK or EU residents was over 90 minutes long when we arrived a couple of years ago. The only thing not allowed was the taking of pictures or video while in the secure area.

When entering the United States, the rules are quite different. You’re not allowed to use your phone or a camera AT ALL until you clear passport control, collect your bags and clear U.S. Customs. On my last flight, I found out what happens to someone who chooses to ignore that rule.


We had just landed on a flight from London. Thanks to Global Entry, we were through Passport Control in under five minutes, but that meant we had to wait for the baggage to be unloaded from our flight. While at the baggage carousel, I decided to rearrange the items in my pockets, since I had haphazardly threw them in there when getting off the plane. This included removing my phone to move it from one pocket to another.

Almost immediately I heard a guard behind me say “NO PHONES!” and, not knowing if it was directed to me or not (I think it was), I immediately returned my phone into my other pants pocket.

I learned my lesson and my phone stayed in my pocket until I claimed my baggage and was clear into the terminal building. The same was not true for another passenger on my flight.

As a larger crowd gathered around the baggage carousel, I again heard “NO PHONES!” yelled out from behind me. I looked up and saw that a woman on the other side of the carousel was talking on her phone.

“PUT IT AWAY…..NOW!!!!!!”

Have you ever watched a person make a series of poor decisions all in a row?

The woman raises her hand and waves off the officer. Bad life choice, lady.

Next thing I know, the officer is sprinting, pushing me out of the way and climbing OVER the carousel towards her. It was as awkward and shocking as you’d imagine.

Sharon was standing behind me and saw the officer run by and her observation was, “He had a handgun in the secure area, he’s not the one you should be messing around with.”


However, this woman had a special kind of something as she said to the officer as he rushed towards her, “I’m almost done with my call.”  That’s another REALLY poor decision, lady. 


Nope. She starts to tell the person on the phone what’s happening.

Officer then goes to take the phone from her hand, which she tries to resist, but loses, and the officer hangs it up.

“I was almost finished! What’s your problem?” Some people never learn. 


Things just got real, and fast.

She still goes at the officer, who now has backup waiting.

The officer wasn’t waiting to hear what she is trying to say. He didn’t care.


The woman made her first good decision of the night and handed over her passport as they walked back towards the passport control area.

All of the other passengers were in a sort of shocked amazement at the sheer stupidity of this woman. If she had just hung up the phone, she would have gotten a stern warning but would probably be on her way home. Now, we were sure she would be sitting in an empty room waiting to be interviewed by an officer who doesn’t really care why she was on the phone, or who with, but more so why she ignored the orders of a border control officer and let’s check what’s on your phone.

So just remember, you can’t use your phone in the secure area when clearing U.S. Customs and Immigration and if a Customs Officer gives you a direct command, follow what they say.

Sorry we don’t have any pictures or video of the incident…;-)

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary




Javier March 25, 2019 - 2:34 pm

Which airport did this occur? If I was a betting man I would say New York JFK – totally something a New Yorker would do!

NB March 25, 2019 - 2:44 pm

How amazingly stupid and inept that officer must have been. Whenever I go to the USA, the wait to get through passports is always between one and two hours. Everybody is on their phone, many simply checking emails, but several talking as well. It may be a rule (although the justification for such a rule eludes me) but it’s not normally enforced and nor should it be. To think that such an officer makes such a spectacle of him- or her-self is sobering. The USA is no longer a free country.

Will Cariño March 25, 2019 - 2:46 pm

Oh wow. I cleared passport control and was waiting for my bag at the carousel. I was on my phone but no one said anything. I was at SFO on 3/14/19. Is this new?

Martin March 25, 2019 - 3:20 pm

This is pathetic unnecessary overreach and a symptom of the USA’s malignancy. What a dump of a country.

Danny March 25, 2019 - 5:43 pm

Australia also prohibits mobile phone use in controlled areas. Are they are your “dump of country” list as well?

Theo November 9, 2020 - 3:34 am

um….. we don’t
you can go on your phone, it may be a rule, though I haven’t seen any signage or instructions, and its definitely not enforced

kq747 March 25, 2019 - 3:43 pm

I’m sorry but this is absurd. I use my phone for the mobile passport app which means you have to have it out in the immigration line and to show the officer when clearing customs. I’ve seen plenty of people make calls and use their phone while waiting for bags as they can take a while to come out whether it’s texting the person who might be waiting for you, calling an uber etc. I understand maybe the no photos thing but seriously? No phone at all?! Sounds like an officer on a power trip

richbilancia March 25, 2019 - 3:50 pm

What about using the “Mobile Passport” app? I’ve used it regularly from my phone with no issues whatsoever.

Jon March 25, 2019 - 4:08 pm

What the hell city did you land in? That’s way too extreme… must be Miami 😉

Enore Antonio Bondan Filho April 1, 2019 - 4:18 pm

I know what you mean… but I landed in MIA 10 days ago, and not just me, but most people, were using the cell phone waiting in line for the passport control. Concourse J.

Chris W. March 26, 2019 - 2:57 am

Thats just stupid. Understand the no photo. But until they solves queues and waiting you should be able to use your phone. Just an officer that probably got diverced or his girlfriend broke up and had to let his anger go.

Lara S. March 26, 2019 - 6:40 am

This was a ridiculous over-reaction by the officer. I mean, yes the woman should have hung up but seriously, leaping over the baggage belt and yelling like that? Come on. My bigger concern is wtf would have happened if this was some poor ME or ME-“looking” person…probably tackled without comment. Also what if the person did not speak english? Come on there are a lot of problems with what happened, and this officer needs to re-take de-escalation training. Stat.

Chris1982 March 26, 2019 - 6:52 am

I get your point that her behavior was not appropriate – but I am also sure that whatever kind of officer has to implement that kind of rules is a mere symptom of a pathological and pathetic society – wherever this may have happened.

gus November 8, 2020 - 8:15 pm

Ridiculous. I sometimes use my phone at immigration and customs. When rules have no reason whatsoever behind them, I am not going to be an idiot and follow them. there isn’t a valid reason why that would be necessary, not to use your phone. Besides, your phone is necessary anyway to clear mobile passport kiosks, as other commenters have pointed out.
The whole thing of “you must obey a direct order by a customs officer” thing simply reeks of fascism. It’s like any other interaction with the police – you have to comply with their instructions, but you also have the right to ask “why” and argue – it is your right as a citizen to stand up for yourself to a certain extent. The man was on a power trip and should be fired – somebody with that sort of character has no place it CPB. If the lady in question missed her flight as a result or had any other issues, she should sue.

D.A. November 8, 2020 - 11:09 pm

Is there a specific USC (U.S. Code) or CFR (codified federal regulations) section which prohibits use of cell phones prior to clearing customs? Or is this just a typical DHS “overreach”.

And why then, are there not similar signs (and “enforcement”) when one crosses a land crossing with Mexico or Canada on foot or in a car?

NB November 9, 2020 - 6:03 am

This sums up everything that is wrong with Law Enforcement in the USA. Pass a ridiculous law (that has to be broken to use Mobile Passport and is regularly broken by people incarcerated waiting in lines for 2+ hours), then randomly choose someone and pull a gun on them. No wonder there are repeated George Floyd type incidents when the LEOs clearly have no sense of proportion, seem to be out of control and nobody is there to stop them.

Clearly the woman should have put her phone down, but also clearly the officer’s behavior was far more offensive.

mojo November 9, 2020 - 5:39 pm

The officer apparently just took the lady’s cell ‘phone, why not just take her passport as well – I mean, why even bother asking/ordering her to give it up? LoL

Tony February 22, 2022 - 9:16 am

What airport did you land at here? I see people using their phones ALL THE TIME pre-customs at numerous airports hahahahaha. What you’re describing may be a rule, that is usually rarely enforced


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