I make a point of traveling light. Not because of any hatred for checked luggage or because I hate bags. I figure it is mostly because I’m lazy and so carrying as little as possible means less to schlep around during any particular trip. And so when I cleared immigration at Newark on Sunday afternoon with just my messenger bag and camera bag for an overnight trip it was no different than many trips before. If anything I had overpacked based on the amount of camera gear and electronics I’m traveling with these days. And yet it still appears to have caused me a bit of trouble this past weekend. Waiting patiently(ish) in the queue to exit the baggage claim area I realized that I was in a conversation with the agent, even though I wasn’t really.
Do you have all your bags??
I was a bit taken aback that he was addressing me while still speaking with the passenger actually at the podium. Capturing the attention of an agent when you’re not directly involved with them generally doesn’t end well. Also, this was the Global Entry lane and the agent was taking time to talk with travelers. That’s another bad sign. And so when it was my turn I was pretty sure I was already in trouble. I was correct.
He asked how long I had been out of the country. Just under 24 hours. He asked where I was coming in from. The flight was from Amsterdam but I never actually cleared immigration there so I’m not sure how it will show in the systems so I was excessively clear in my answer. He was exceedingly not amused.
It took all of about 3 seconds for him to step back from the little podium and ask me to follow him towards the secondary screening area. Fortunately there was no one else in the area – my flight was the first arrival of the afternoon from Europe at EWR Terminal C – so there was not a wait to get an agent to review my story. Except that they apparently like to make people wait just because they can. And so I stood off in the corner (sitting down would likely result in me falling asleep) waiting for my turn with the agent.
After conferring with his colleagues for a few minutes I was finally summoned to the counter to explain my trip. Yes, I flew from Montreal to Newark via Amsterdam. And, yes, I had a reason to do so. I was on the final KLM MD-11 flight which also happened to be the final MD-11 flight in commercial service. I was working. And, yes, it really is something which people are interested in reading about. To his credit the agent knew a thing or two about the MD-11. And I hadn’t mentioned that bit before talking with his so I don’t think we was spending the time before calling me up researching the type. And so we talked briefly about the airplane, that there were 50+ AvGeeks on board for the retirement celebration and that I really was there to write about the event.
He then switched that “polite chit-chat” option off and went immediately back to what did I have with me and what was in my bag. How much cash, anything sharp, the usual bits. And, after going through those questions a couple times, did I want to change any of my responses before he started searching. The search was quick. I suppose that is to be expected when I had almost nothing for them to search, but there was plenty of opportunity for it to go badly as well.
And then I was told I could reassemble my stuff while he finished up some entries in the computer. No word on whether this affects my future Global Entry access or anything else about my travels. And it probably didn’t cause me to miss a train home thanks to NJTransit’s pathetic schedule on the weekends. But it was an interesting experience, one I hope to not repeat any time soon.
And, yes, I probably could have been a bit less open about the specific details of my trip, particularly the not having cleared immigration in Amsterdam part. But I also really have no idea how this trip shows up in their computers and I very much did not want to be in a position where they could suggest I had lied to them. Just not worth it.
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