US Customs Queues – A Costly Collapse in Customer Care

One team, one fight?  How about less fighting and more of the service we pay for.
One team, one fight???  How about less fighting and more of the service we pay for.

What part of welcoming foreign visitors and businessmen to the US do we not understand?

Is it the bit about the billions of dollars they will spend in our country, or the part about the millions of new jobs that would be created if we restored our country’s share of international travel to the historic levels it used to be, prior to when new ‘keep the foreigners out’ policies were enacted?

Do we currently have such a booming economy and trade surplus that we don’t need billions more dollars?  Do we currently have such full employment that we don’t want to add millions more jobs?

While other countries do all they can to attract and encourage international travelers to come visit, the US acts in a contrarian manner, harming itself for no good purpose.

Read this article in the Wall St Journal about the growth of lines and delays suffered by visitors to the US.  It is thought that the US is now the worst country in the world for visitors to enter (and that’s before we add the extra indignities, hassles, problems, and expenses of getting a visa to come here in the first place!).

The root cause of the problem?  Even though we’d done the worst we can to keep them away, foreign visitor numbers are up 12% over the last three years, but the Customs & Border Patrol have not hired any more agents.  Why not?  Passengers pay way over the odds in direct taxes and fees that more than cover the cost of the CBP staff.  And therefore, a growth in passenger numbers directly flows through to an increase in fees paid.  What is happening to the extra money the CBP is receiving?  Why is it not being spent on a matching increase in staff?

Every arriving passenger pays $16.30 for the privilege of being serviced by CBP agents, plus another $5 Agricultural inspection fee, another $5.50 Customs fee, and a further $7  Immigration fee.  Oh, and they pay another $16.30 to leave the country again.

The CBP’s apparent refusal to appropriately spend the money it receives on providing a fair level of service to the people who compulsorily paid the fees assessed is beyond appalling.  How can they not provide an abundant level of staffing in return for the $50.10 every passenger – both US citizens and foreigners – pays them?  Did you see $50.10 worth of value and staffing/infrastructure cost the last time you flew out of the country and back again (and don’t forget that you paid separate and additional fees for TSA screening, airport infrastructure, and just about every other imaginable thing, too)?

Where is any sense of management and concern among our country’s leadership?

Most of all, what has happened to our nation’s sense of decency and pride?  How is it that this country – once one of the most open and welcoming of countries, and once one of the best governed and most sensible of counties – now acts in a manner that would put a third world dictatorship to shame?

If you can get foreigner to speak openly and honestly to you – I can because my accent causes them not to identify me as a US citizen – they will eagerly tell you how their experiences getting visas and then entering the United States are the worst in the world.  Many people refuse to visit the US and refuse to fly any routes that require them to transit through the US.  They’d rather fly ‘the long way round’ to get somewhere than to go through the US, and who can blame them.

Ask them about their experiences traveling to other countries, ranging from ones we consider to be ‘bad’ to ones we have always thought ourselves to be superior to.  Cuba – lovely friendly people.  North Korea – passively disinterested bureaucrats and an easy process.  China – a civilized friendly easy process.  Russia – lazy bored staff, some delays, but again an easy process.  The EU?  Just walk on in.  Even our immediate neighbor to the north, Canada – a positive experience.  But the US?  Rude aggressive staff, ridiculously complex procedures to get visas, and the risk of multi-hour delays to be processed through Immigrations and Customs.

As observed before, we are now in the ridiculous situation where illegal aliens get a warmer welcome to the United States than legal visitors.  Why is the Senate not developing easy obvious solutions to this massive harm we’re inflicting on ourselves (ie mandating the CBP to staff to a level to ensure no-one waits more than perhaps 20 minutes), instead of tying itself up in knots arguing about illegal aliens?

5 thoughts on “US Customs Queues – A Costly Collapse in Customer Care”

  1. Margaret Mackenzie-Hooson

    Sadly, my experience is similar to yours–friends from other countries, some wealthy, some who lived in the US formerly as business executives who provided significant employment, who no longer will visit the US because of the unpleasant procedures of entry which give them the impression that they are being treated disrespectfully and with suspicion, who will make a point of avoiding itineraries that have them pass through US, and who have been horrified about how slowly the lines move through Immigration.

  2. Have the CBP learn from the Ukrainians. When I first went to Kyiv [Ukraine] seven years ago it took 90 minutes to get through Border Control and after that I waited another 20 minutes to get my checked baggage. Last time I went to Kyiv [two weeks ago] it took me just 17 minutes from the time the plane landed until I was able to walk out of the airport with my baggage. During those seven years I nhave returned 3-4 times a year and have gradually seen the service improve. What a pleasant experience compared to the 75 minutes it took me to accomplish the same at JFK a month ago, and my American friends marveled at how quickly I got through.

    The Americans are clearly lulled into their laissez faire couldn’t care a less attitude by the fact that traffic has increased by 12%. Why spend more money, try harder and be more efficient if the people come anyway?

  3. I wonder how much these delays cost passengers who do not make their next flight. I have experienced significant delays returning in Chicago, and waited well over an hour to clear customs. I live in Chicago, but how do these delays impact the passenger that is transiting to another flight and how much does it cost the airline when passengers are delayed.

    In the spring of this year, I was returning from Asia and right before landing the Tower Control Center switched the runways. This caused all flights to move to a different pattern for landing, which delayed all flights for probably 30 minutes. by the time we entered Customs, the entire building was packed. We waited for over 3 hours to clear Customs. This was an unusual situation, and not typical. In general though, a 30 minute wait for US passport holders is not unusual, while it appears the non-US passport holder line is twice as long.

  4. the americans are a bunch of paranoid pathetic union workers,no compassion for foreign travelers and most certainl xenophobic in the extreme,avoid this country if you need to avoid aggravation.

  5. Michael McCleary

    After just going thru passport control at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Seattle passport control and customs looked pretty good. If you are a EU member it is easy but if you are an American it is like being In an unorganized herd of cattle.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Free Weekly Emailed Newsletter

Usually weekly, since 2001, we publish a roundup of travel and travel related technology developments, and often a feature article too.

You’ll stay up to date with the latest and greatest (and cautioned about the worst) developments.  You’ll get information to help you choose and become a better informed traveler and consumer, how to best use new technologies, and at times, will learn of things that might entertain, amuse, annoy or even outrage you.

We’re very politically incorrect and love to point out the unrebutted hypocrisies and unfairnesses out there.

This is all entirely free (but you’re welcome to voluntarily contribute!), and should you wish to, easy to cancel.

We’re not about to spam you any which way and as you can see, we don’t ask for any information except your email address and how often you want to receive our newsletters.

Newsletter Signup - Welcome!

Thanks for choosing to receive our newsletters.  We hope you’ll enjoy them and become a long-term reader, and maybe on occasion, add comments and thoughts of your own to the newsletters and articles we publish.

We’ll send you a confirmation email some time in the next few days to confirm your email address, and when you reply to that, you’ll then be on the list.

All the very best for now, and welcome to the growing “Travel Insider family”.