Airports have the uncanny ability to take the simplest of problems and completely F them up time and again, but nothing is worse than going through customs. Your flight landed early, you're excited to get home, and all you're thinking about is how long it will take to get your checked bag to figure out when your ride can leave the cellphone lot. But then you turn the corner and see that mass of people snaking across the customs area like a compressed accordion of misery. Half hour? 45 minutes maybe? Fuck.
You queue up behind all the other downtrodden travelers to join the march of inches that brings you ever so slowly closer to your ultimate fate: having to answer questions from someone no more American than you to be allowed back into your own damn country.
I'm an American citizen. They verified my passport three different times before even letting me on the plane. Who are you to make me wait to get back home? Scan my passport, compare my picture, and let me get the hell outta here.
Then there's the staffing, and this is what really makes me want to start screaming. There must be 40 counters that could be filled, and yet only six customs officers are checking passports. The line for US citizens has over 100 people in it alone, not to mention the visitors' line that's even longer. (If I was one of them I'd turn right around and go home. The US can't be THAT sweet, can it?) You've got to be kidding me. It's not like flight arrivals are a surprise, and they just have to hope there are enough people to cover it. 200 of us didn't just hail a passing 777 and decide to pop over to the US. I booked my tickets months ago. Do I need to start emailing customs to let them know when international flights are landing? YOU'RE STATIONED AT THE AIRPORT, MAYBE CHECK AN ARRIVALS MONITOR EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE.
And then...AND THEN...they have the nerve to take two people from their already embarrassingly understaffed team and give them completely useless jobs. There's the one at the end of the long line telling you which counter to wait at. Oh hey, thanks, it's not perfectly fucking obvious that I should go to the shortest line. Glad you're here. We never would've figured that one out. And I especially appreciate you sending me to the guy who has to be really super thorough to show how much he's protecting our country.
The other one wanders around, telling people they can't even look at their phones while waiting in line (again) at the counters. WE WOULDN'T BE USING OUR PHONES IF WE HADN'T BEEN IN LINE SO LONG THAT WE HAD TO MAKE SURE OBAMA WAS STILL PRESIDENT. Here's an idea, why don't you get your ass behind a counter and start checking passports? I'll worry about when I should and shouldn't be using my phone. And what are you trying to prevent anyway? The only thing a terrorist would learn from seeing a picture of our customs process is that it's not worth the wait. Americans are tortured enough as it is.
But the worst part of all? There's nothing you can do about it. You can't go to the competing customs checkpoint next door. You can't start ranting and raving like I am right now. You can call some 800 number where your message will get drowned in a pool of all the other governmental customer nightmares. DMV anyone? They must've been trained by customs officers.
And they have no incentive to make it better. Customs checkpoints are not revenue generators. Improving the experience doesn't let them sell more wares. So you just have to stand there - tired, fuming, bordering on insanity - until someone tells you that it's okay to pass.
I guess that's one kind of immigration policy: make it so laughably miserable to enter the country that no one else ever wants to come in, and no Americans ever want to leave for fear of coming back.
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