How To Cause An International Incident With Your 6-Year Old

Traveling with kids can be very unpredictable.  And, as those of you with kids may well know, when someone tells you your child did something wrong, there can be a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality.  I was a bit guilty of this on our recent trip to Halifax, and I was wrong.

After traveling enough times with our children, my wife and I have a pretty good system worked out to navigate an airport.  My wife generally takes the kids off the plane and I transform myself into a human pack mule, carting all the bags.  I generally stay behind when we get off the plane to pick up our gate-checked stroller (can’t wait until we’re past that point) and then catch up with them at the top of the jet bridge.

On our recent flight to Halifax, I told my wife to go ahead and proceed down to customs and get a place in line, knowing I could catch up quickly once I’d gotten the stroller.  So, I was a bit surprised when I made my way up the jet bridge, suitcases and stroller in tow, to find my wife along with my parents standing just past the top of the jet bridge.  When I looked at my wife, she replied, “They won’t let us leave.  They say Catherine violated a secure area.”

Sure enough, right next to them was an airport official dressed in some sort of uniform.  She informed me my daughter had crossed over into the customs area, then back into the “secure area”, so she was detaining us until the constable could arrive.  I asked my wife and she said Catherine was a few steps ahead of her and turned around to see where Michelle was.  She took a step back and that was when the uniformed lady reached for her, though didn’t actually put her hands on her.

The situation got considerably weirder when I asked the uniformed lady (not sure what she was an officer of, no discernable badges or ID) what exactly my daughter had done wrong.  She pointed to the floor to indicate to me where the secure area stopped and the customs area started.  Here’s a picture I took (after the fact) of the floor and the separation of the two areas.

International Incident

Do you see the line?  Oddly, you can’t, because there was no line.  No markings of any kind.  When I questioned her further, the uniformed lady informed me the line was parallel to the door we went through.

My wife, not prone to exaggeration, said Catherine had only been a few feet in front of the line before she crossed back over.  Barrie, (for those just joining us, my surrogate mom) who’s even less prone to exaggeration, said it was more like 6 inches.

I then pointed out to the uniformed lady that there was no actual sign or marking to indicate that there was a secure area that couldn’t be entered or re-entered.  Very curtly, she told me there was a sign, and then (I’m not kidding you), pointed to a sign that was 3 feet behind her (further past the door and the invisible line) that was facing the other direction.  She was a good 2 or 3 feet past the door, so the sign that nobody could read was a good 5 feet past where my daughter stepped (and then turned around).  So, there was no visible indication that my daughter could even have recognized.

Me being the sarcastic soul I was said, “So, you’re detaining us because my daughter stepped over an invisible line she couldn’t have known about because the only sign is turned the other way and past where she was standing?”  For that comment, I got in reply, “Sir.  I’m not being mean to you, so I don’t expect you to be rude to me.”

I inquired how long it would be for the constable to arrive.  She wasn’t sure and radioed someone to ask, stating that she had some very irritated people waiting for him.  Understatement, though it would get a bit more frustrating before the end.

The constable showed up and the uniformed lady told him the entire sordid tale.  He then turned to me and asked for my daughter’s passport.  I asked him why and he said that he needed to file a report about the incident so he needed all of my daughter’s information.  Others may have chosen a different path here, but I decided I didn’t want a police report floating around on my daughter because someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  So, I told him no.  Needless to say, he was a bit surprised.  We’re all still standing there, the flight is completely unloaded at this point, and he’s still insisting on the info.

At some point during his insisting I think he finally realized he wasn’t getting the information.  It was probably around the time I offered him my passport and told him to arrest me if necessary, but that it was absolutely crazy to file a police report on a 6-year old, especially when she didn’t even do anything wrong. He then asked my daughter what her name was.  I stood in front of my daughter and told her not to answer and asked him if we could speak with his supervisor.  Throughout the process, other than the one snarky comment to the uniformed lady, I kept my cool and never raised my voice.  I gave the officer my information and then told him politely that unless he had any further objections, I was taking my family and proceeding through customs.  He stood aside and we went on our way.

As we made our way downstairs to customs (small airport, maybe a 200 foot walk) another officer showed up to greet the constable that was dealing with us.  Based on uniform, it seemed clear that the second officer was his supervisor.  The constable we were dealing with proceeded to have something of a heated conversation with the supervisor, though most of the heated conversation seemed to be coming from the constable.  They were both looking at us during the conversation.

Deciding I hadn’t dug myself a deep enough hole, I walked over to address the supervisor.  I probably would have been better off shutting my mouth and clearing customs, but that’s why hindsight is 20/20.  I reiterated my concerns about a police report on my daughter to the supervisor.  The constable, visibly frustrated, had taken a couple of steps back.  The supervisor replied, “Sir, not only can I assure you 100% that there will not be a police report on your daughter, I can assure you with 100% certainty there will be no police report at all.  We’re not here to tar and feather you.  Enjoy your stay in Halifax.”

As we walked to baggage claim, our daughter wanted to know what she did wrong, and we told her nothing.  Oddly, the incident caused less frustration for me than it normally would.  While a bit absurd, it was just pretty comical.

It’s easy to make travel more frustrating than it needs to be, and there’s no doubt my actions could have lead to more trouble.  But I’m pretty protective of my kids and I knew I wasn’t really stepping outside of any normal boundaries that could lead to trouble inside the airport.

In the end sanity prevailed and we all had a good chuckle about it.

About the Author

My goal in life is to fill my family’s passports with stamps, creating buckets of memories along the way. You’ll find me writing about realistic ways for normal people to travel the world, whether you’re on a budget or enjoy luxury. I also enjoy taking us on the occasional detour to explore the inner workings of the travel industry.

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  1. a nice footnote would add to the “chuckle”.  The customs agent I went to asked if we had encountered a bit of difficulty downstairs (i.e. he was laughing about it).  I asked if it has happened before, his reply, “happens often everyday”.

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