Even US Customs Secondary Inspection Was Pleasant

I spent my birthday on my first ever mileage run. Orlando-Santo Domingo via Mexico City on AeroMexico business class for $110 brought enough Delta MQMs for me to jump on it.

The ticket was a quick turn, never leaving the airport. Mexico City is one of my favorite cities and I enjoy the porthole window design of Terminal 2 at the airport. I have been through enough times to know the quirks such as some flights, especially around midnight, never showing on departure monitors.

I enjoyed the trip. There was no pressure to do anything except glide along for the ride. I got a new AeroMexico 737-800 for one leg. In Santo Domingo I saw the National rental car counter for one of my more memorable (pre-GPS) road trips.

On the return I had a few hours for the connection up to Newark. I had a feeling US Customs and Border Protection systems are not programmed for mileage running. An overnight trip to Santo Domingo and no checked luggage got me the Global Entry X.

My prior secondary inspection experience was on a return from Lima to Miami, where I then lived. It was in the first year of Global Entry. Something in the air at Miami’s airport, so many people are nasty (and I otherwise enjoy the city). That time the US CBP officers were rude and slow. They thought it a big deal that the $30 guest house I stayed in Peru prior to departure had not furnished a formal receipt, even though I had tickets and other receipts from my two week trip to Easter Island, Bolivia and Peru. The main officer interviewing me was trying to get a rise out of me. Eventually they could not find any evidence that I was anything but a tourist and was sent on my way.

Yesterday in Orlando I was floored by the courtesy of every CBP officer. Really stunned.

I took my big X receipt over to the Global Entry checker. First he pointed me the way, then realizing it was confusing, he got out of his chair, yes, got out of his chair, and showed me the way to secondary. He then hunted around to find an on-duty officer to interview me since no other flights were in and I was first out. He said, “I want to find someone so you don’t have to wait long.” A big smile on a friendly guy.

Next up was the agent who processed me. She thanked me for carrying my Global Entry card which allows them to load my profile rather than manual key entry. We chatted about this and that of life and travels. She apologized, “Sorry, we have a new computer system,” and gave a smiling shrug as she waited for it to catch up. She did the full item by item check of my luggage and testing of its contents. Another CBP officer had to weigh in on my loose leaf tea.

Inspection done, I was wished a good day. I said I might see her again in two weeks because I have another of these tickets.

Why post this?

We all hear the horror stories and abuses (though keep in mind that CPB is not the TSA). It is important to criticize failings, yes, and also to recognize the positive. Against nasty Toronto US Preclearance, there is cheerful Halifax.  I expected my trip to attract attention. The CBP officers were completely professional and went out of their way to be personable, treating me as a fellow citizen. That’s a great feeling.

I am not broadly anti-government and I don’t believe there is a always a ‘Them’ out to get me. Some necessary services are best provided by the government. I don’t want to pave a road out of my home, for instance, so happy to have the government build the roads. Part of our democratic process and governance is to sort that out and make it work for us citizens. By only criticizing and fanning conspiracy theories, we get nowhere. Surely wrongs and abuses should be identified and rectified. This is a case, though, where CBP was vigilant yet still treated me with the respect due a fellow citizen.

Turns out you can submit compliments to the CBP, so why not, I do it for airlines and hotels, I went ahead and submitted one for Orlando CBP.

US CBP Compliment

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  • Tom

    Glad you had a positive experience. Recently flew YHZ-BOS via YUL, which was my first experience with pre clearance in Canada (did SNN last year and no issues whatsoever there). Went through the usual kiosk routine, no mark on the receipt, so proceeded for the exit, as I’d done a million times before.

    I noticed a sign off to the side to the effect of ‘wait here behind the line for the next agent’, but after pausing and glancing around, figured that was for non-GE folk. Tried establishing eye contact with the nearest booth, but no interest, so I walked forward. Immediately, and from out of seemingly nowhere, a uniformed CBP woman descends upon me, snapping loudly, “DIDN’T YOU SEE THE SIGN? WAIT BEHIND THE LINE!”

    “Oh, that’s for Global Entry? It’s just that every other time when I’m done with the kiosk, I…”

    “I’D BETTER MOVE THE SIGN TO MAKE IT MORE OBVIOUS, THEN.” And she picks up the sign and moves it directly in front of me. It was indeed more obvious now.

    Honestly, I would have been fine with the first remark – there was a sign, I saw it, erroneously figured it didn’t apply to me, and made a mistake – but the rudeness and aggressiveness was really uncalled for. Again, I understand why they’re there (although I hate pre clearance north of the border), and don’t even ask for outright courtesy, such as you experienced. Just don’t yell in my face and pull stupid shenanigans like placing the sign right in front of me.

    …And it’s my understanding that the CBP pre clearance postings abroad merit bonus pay? Shaking my head…

  • Tom

    Oh, and two more things – 1) I have Global Entry (just to make it clear), and 2) I was in Halifax on your recommendation, really – if I didn’t read your post on the most recent IHG point breaks and make the reservation *that day* (right before they sold out), I wouldn’t have experienced delightful Nova Scotia. So thanks!

  • @Tom – glad you went up and also enjoyed Nova Scotia.

    Montreal US Preclearance has as bad a reputation as Toronto. I have only passed through once and they were not friendly. Lamentably, it doesn’t surprise me what happened to you. And same thing they they impose their own procedure different from other sites and treat people rudely for not magically knowing how they do things.

    I chatted with the guy in Halifax. He’s been there 4 years, the limit is 5. I said it must be a fantastic posting, with a broad smile he said, “Could be worse!”

  • John

    I had similar experiences first thing in the morning arriving in Honolulu from Japan twice last year. Pleasant, helpful, and apologetic about the delays. It didn’t hurt that I was the first and seemingly only Global Entry patron both times. I ended up talking credit cards and mileage runs with one agent for 15 minutes even after he had finished politely rooting through my bag.

  • Progapanda

    @Tom,

    Please consider providing the CBP with feedback on your interaction with the YHZ agent. If nothing else, an officer will review whether the agents there need to go though additional training. I’ve had relatively good responses to the feedback I’ve provided on such unnecessarily rude and hostile interactions at the border.

  • Pete

    @Tom,

    I had almost an identical experience at YYZ a few months ago, albeit everyone was polite to me about it, at least. This seems to be the new standard operating procedure for Global Entry at pre-clearance airports in Canada, at least some of the time. Not sure what it gains them. It obviously sucks as a user of the system.

    You would think they’d be more understand, considering how everyone is conditioned to the old “get the receipt, walk to the exit” system. It’ll take time to get the word out.