Just a few days ago I said I would never complain about U.S. Customs and Border Patrol again. That was before I came back to America earlier this week and had to deal with another humiliating interrogation session and bag check at Philadelphia International Airport. I am getting very tired of this.
I try to be honest in all things and always fill out my landing card honestly. That meant I put down where I had been on this trip--Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Germany. I did not put down Canada, the UK, and Azerbaijan, because I did not actually enter those countries officially--I merely passed through them.
First off, I know I have been talking about Global Entry for years and have never got around to it. Now, I've put it off a few more months because United is supposedly making it free for top-tier elites. But every time I find myself stuck in an immigration line or having the contents dumped out of my bag, I always regret my procrastination. This time was no different.
After waiting for more than hour in line (and truly, this was a record for me--even Washington Dulles at rush hour has never been this bad), I came up to an extermely pale middle-aged man with a moustache. Of course the Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan entries raised an alarm.
AGENT: "Why were you in Kay - zak - a -stan?" (yes, that is how he pronounced it)
ME: "I got a good deal on the airfare. I wanted to go to Germany and by booking this trip, I got to see both Germany and Kazakhstan and save $300."
AGENT: "What? That doesn't make any sense."
ME: "The ticket to fly to Kazakhstan, then back to Philadelphia with a stop in Germany was less than just flying to Germany and back. My trip was $500. Just going to Germany was $800."
AGENT: "That doesn't sound right. Why would an airline charge less to go further?"
ME: "You should ask Lufthansa that, but I took advantage of it."
Our conversation continued in a similar fashion, with more skeptical questions. He then wrote "BGC" (bag check) on my arrival form and shook his head one last time. I told him, "Look, do I look like a criminal to you? I've been perfectly honest with you and served in the Air Force. Come on, this is three times in a row. Am I going to have to do this every time I come back to my country?"
He chuckled and said, "You take care sir."
Next, I proceeded to the secondary check area past baggage claim, where I had to wait about 15 minutes for an agent to check my bag. He asked why I was here, saying, "If it's just an extra carton of cigarettes, I'll getcha out quick." Then he looked at my arrivals form and said, "Oh, Kazakhstan. We'll have to do a full search." (at least he pronounced it correctly)
He handed me off to a colleague, who proceeded to empty everything...every last pen and pencil from my bag. He then began to talk as he rifled through my belongings, making remarks about how he would never want to go to Kazakhstan and oddly about how he had heard on the radio that the health care law is unconstitutional. I don't know how he got on that topic.
He found nothing and instructed me to pack my bag up as he walked over to his computer, pulled up my name, and typed away for a few minutes. Sadly, my dossier seems to be growing. He thanked me and said, "Welcome home...finally."
I was finished.
I have faced interrogations and bag checks on my last three international trips---at LAX, MIA, and PHL. Why is it that my fat passport filled with so many stamps and stickers raises the suspicion of so many border agents? Will I ever be able to get Global Entry now? Why is there an incentive to be dishonest to DHS?
As an American citizen, I don't think I should have to explain to dopey border guards where I travel and why I choose to. What is it about visiting Kazakhstan that is so sinister? Or Chile for that matter? Oh how I wish the US border agents would be a bit more like their counterparts in Germany...