That Story About The Experienced Traveler Who Scared The Crap Out Of His Wife And Almost Got Her Global Entry Revoked

You’ve been reading my blog for more than a few days, right?  That means you know the “experienced traveler” is me.  Here’s the not-so-short-story of how I scared the crap out of my wife earlier this week.

We were on our way back from Nova Scotia where we’d been spending time with my family.  Our flight home connected through Montreal.  I’ve been through that airport a handful of times and wasn’t overly worried about the customs process.  Our experience reminded me that even the most experienced travelers need to be on their toes.

Our entire family has Global Entry.  For newbies, that’s the shortcut program to clear  US Customs more quickly upon return to the US.  Global Entry also bestows TSA PreCheck, which helps shorten security lines for flights in the domestic US.  After having our carry-on bags screened we proceeded to the Global Entry kiosks.  I’ve always had a bit of a problem getting my passport to scan effectively with the kiosks. I keyed mine in manually and received an error message I’d never seen before.  The kiosk informed me it couldn’t find my information.  Odd.

My First Mistake

My error message wouldn’t prove to be nearly our biggest problem of the day.  When Michelle went to process her passport, the kiosk informed her that her Global Entry had expired.  Wait, what?  Yes, this is what happens when life is too busy and you’re not paying close enough attention.  The expiration date is listed right on the Global Entry card, which was a glaring reminder that I was a moron and let my wife’s Global Entry expire.

My Second Mistake

We processed our kids’ passports on the Global Entry kiosks and then went across to the regular line.  There are automated kiosks for regular entry as well.  However, neither Michelle or I could get the machines to read our passports on that side.  At that point, I decided our best bet was to head back over to the Global Entry line.  My error message had said I needed to present myself to a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) official.  I figured the Global Entry line was our best bet.  Nope.

The person who was organizing the queue on the “regular” side of the customs hall wanted to try to scan our passports.  I probably should have let her, but since we’d already gotten the error messages, I showed her the big X on our customs form and she directed us back to the Global Entry line.  That was a mistake.

My Third Mistake

Seeing a pattern here?  You could probably label this part my 3rd and 4th mistake because I’ve never really bothered to explain to my wife what secondary inspections are in the customs process.  But, the 3rd mistake comes up in just a minute.  I presented myself to a CBP official in the Global Entry lane.  I explained to him the two errors we had received from the machine.  The conversation went something like this:

CBP: If your wife’s Global Entry is expired, she can’t come through this line.

Me: I’m sure you’re right.  The agent over there (pointing) sent us over this way.  My error message was different from my wife’s, one I haven’t seen before.  But, I’m happy to go wherever you direct us. Just not sure on the correct process at this point.

CBP: Well, if your wife stands here I have to give her a warning.  Once I violate her (his words) she’ll lose her Global Entry and won’t be able to get it back.  You’re not allowed to bring her through this line.

Me:  Totally understand.  I’m not trying to bring my wife through the line.  I must have misunderstood the message on the kiosk (trying to be deferential).  If you let me know where we should go, I’ll be happy to head that way.

CBP: It’s too late for that. There’s no problem with your Global Entry.  I already cleared you and your kids.  You three need to exit immediately and your wife needs to go back through the regular process.  (Looking at my wife) Ma’am, please leave this lane and head that way.

Um, Wait….

Here’s the incredible part, the biggest reason I didn’t realize he had cleared us.  My passport didn’t work in the kiosk.  He didn’t ask me any of the declaration questions.  I had nothing to hide, but it was really weird not to be asked to process a form or at least answer the declaration question.  He just cleared me through.

Now, I really wasn’t prepared for this, and figured I’d take one (polite) shot.

Me: My wife hasn’t really cleared customs on her own in the past.  We’re all traveling together.  Couldn’t we just stay with her?

CBP:  No, you need to leave.

One Last-Ditch Effort

I left his counter at this point, not wanting to cause an issue.  Throughout the process I was making sure to be ultra-respectful and deferential.  I’ve heard too many horror stories to give anyone an excuse to make the process worse.  I approached a CBP official who was standing by the exit door.

Me:  Hi, there.  I made a mistake and my wife needs to go back over to the regular customs line to clear, but she’s never done it before.  Is there any way we could just stand over her in the corner and keep an eye out for her?

CBP:  Wait, you’re traveling together?  You guys aren’t supposed to be separated.  Why did you leave her?

Me:  That guy told me I had to, didn’t want to cause a scene (pointing at the other officer).

CBP:  Well, you’re not supposed to be separated.  But, if he told you to leave, you need to leave.

Fair enough.  I walked out the exit doors.  I can’t tell you how lucky we were that the doors were transparent.  Because, as we walked out the exit, I realized I had my wife’s boarding pass.

Playing The Wife Card

There were two CBP officials standing near the exit doors.  I could see through the glass that both appeared to be wearing wedding rings.  I figured I had a shot to get things on back if I embellished a bit.  My wife, Michelle is a real sweetheart and very tolerant of me.  But….

Me (as the doors open for someone exiting):  Pardon me, I could really use your help.  My wife’s Global Entry expired because I’m an idiot.  She’s furious with me and she’s over on the other side of the hall.  Except, I have her boarding pass.  Is there any way I could ask one of you to take it to her to save me a bit of an ass chewing later?

They both chuckled and one agreed to help, smiling sheepishly as his buddy said, “Aways going above and beyond, aren’t you?”.  Thankfully, he did.  He first went to secondary looking for her.  Then, he came back and I told him I was pretty sure they hadn’t taken her to secondary yet.  He left again, and as my wife tells the finale…..

Michelle:  After they made me scan my passport again, I was able to wrestle with the machine and get the machine to spit out a piece of paper with a big X on it.

Note from Ed: I’m guessing she got the X on her slip of paper either because of her GE expiration or the Global Entry officer decided to add something to her record.  I’d be really curious to know.  Anyway, back to Michelle….

The family in front of me in that line were having a discussion with the customs officer.  He grabbed all 4 of their passports and walked them away to some other room.  I had no idea what was going on and it kind of freaked me out.

Then, he came back and I got called up.  I explained that my Global Entry had expired.  He asked me if I checked any bags.  I said no, but my husband had.  He asked me where my family was, and told me that we weren’t supposed to be separated.  He asked me why we split up, as if I had done something wrong.  I told him that the other officer had ordered us to do just that.

He asked me for my documents and that’s when I realized my husband had my boarding pass.  I told him he had the pass and he was ready to ship me off to that other room when the other officer walked up and asked if I was Michelle.  He handed me my boarding pass.  Shortly after that, the scary little interlude was over.

The Final Two Pennies

My wife came through the exit doors and the kids gave her a big hug.  They were a bit panicked, and so was Michelle.  That’s when I realized another mistake I’d made.  I never bothered to educate my wife and kids what getting tagged for secondary might be like.  I’ve never gotten tagged for secondary, but I have plenty of friends who have been through the experience.  Knowledge is power, and I’ve got a little bit of work to do.

I also need to see if Michelle’s Global Entry renewal will go through, or if the CBP official did end up marking her file.  I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if so.  And, I really should have never let my wife’s Global Entry expire.  It’s a good lesson that we can all be a bit more careful double-checking our records and making sure we’re really prepared.  I wasn’t this time.  Without the help of one friendly CBP officer bringing my wife her boarding pass, I’m sure Michelle would have been even less thrilled with my mistake.

The post That Story About The Experienced Traveler Who Scared The Crap Out Of His Wife And Almost Got Her Global Entry Revoked was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. I find it ridiculous that you had to go through this much troubles to exercise your right to enter your country. I love the EU e-gate system, so effective and efficient!

  2. Ed, I’m glad it “kind of” worked out for you, especially if your wife’s Global Entry renewal is approved. I reflect two days after Independence Day that it’s sad we have to be so worried about officialdom that we feel obliged to cringe and abase ourselves entering our own country in the “Land of the Free.”

    Why should it be such a big deal if somebody’s Global Entry has expired that she has to worry it will prevent her from renewing it?

    And yes, I would have behaved the same way you did.

  3. Lessons learned:

    1) The entire family needs to go through passport control together as a group.

    2) Follow the instructions on the screen all the way through. If the system presents an error, either follow the instructions on the screen, or proceed with the human at the end of that line. Based on the situation, the human will either manually process you, or send you to secondary to deal with the matter at hand.

    2a) If the screen tells your wife to go to the regular line, see lesson #1. Do not process the kids separately. However, if the screen just returns you to regular screen, see a human. (See lesson #2)

    3) Canadian pre-clearance only: Not sure whether this was left off the story, but even with Global Entry, you need to clear with a human because they need to do positive bag match for customs purpose.

    4) Secondary screening doesn’t mean it’s all bad – it just means there’s more work needs to be done, and the officer didn’t want your case to block the queue. I’ve been through secondary inspections for a) my passport information fell off of my Global Entry profile; b) declared excessive alcohol; c) system glitch that caused the bag match picture to be not available (see #3).

    1. Ptahcha,
      1. I was aware of that, but didn’t want to fight with the first CBP agent. I wasn’t 100% certain but didn’t want to push the issue.
      2. We proceeded to the human at the end of the line, who separated us.
      2a. It didn’t. It said to consult a customs official.
      3. At least in YUL and YHZ, bag match happens earlier in the process. But, it’s also my understanding that you still need to see a human.
      4. I agree, but I’d never briefed my wife on what to expect.

      Thanks for weighing in!

  4. Welcome to the new Ahmuricah and the new undeclared war with Canada, where Lamigra doesn’t want anyone in, including US citizens. It is never the government bureaucrats fault, it is always the taxpayer’s fault. You had a rather innocent mistake and they are looking for ways to make it a felony.

  5. Is your wife not able to renew hew own Global Entry? I would never trust anyone else to manage something this important…especially my husband.

  6. A post about what to do if you do get tagged for secondary would be interesting reading.
    It has never happened to me, but I (like Michelle) would like to be prepared,

      1. I’ve been tagged for secondary (from Mexico) due to less than six months on my passport. Agent was professional at primary but sent me secondary. Sat in an empty waiting hall at LAX for 45 minutes and finally was called to a desk to be lectured about getting a new passport.

      2. I actually went to secondary in Montreal with my two youngest daughters. It was in the middle of a round trip orlando to Montreal to Orlando that we had to do because CBP in Edmonton would only allow their landing record to reflect an expiry 6 weeks later and there is no way to get a landing record if you aren’t arriving from a foreign country at a port of entry, so they were traveling on emergency Canadian passports, are of a different race from me, and we spent a total of 45 minutes in Canada, so that we could get the stupid landing record updated. Of course, with all of that, we ended up in secondary. Not much to tell, spent about half an hour in an empty waiting area while the only CBP person went and got their lunch, then talked to him for about 15 minutes, told him exactly why we only spent 45 minutes in Canada, showed him our documents and adoption papers and Identification that showed we were actually going home, and we were on our way and he helped expedite our entry. One minor hitch, he nearly got us straight through the process without actually stopping to get the stamp that we had spent all of our time and money expressly to obtain! Had to remind him that we didn’t have the stamp yet and go back to the desk for it.

  7. Funny you should mention this. I looked at my global entry card and it expires soon. I spent a while doing the renew app. Looked a my passport and it expires 6 months and 6 days after my return from an EU trip. They say to have at least 6 months remaining validity so should be ok

  8. Global entry renewals can Ben processed up to 12 months before the expiration date. Renewing early doesn’t shorten your 5 year term – the new term won’t begin until the current term runs out. So lesson #1 should really be renew global entry a year before it expires!

    1. This is year 4 for Hubby’s and my Global Entries. Renewal application opens on your birthday. Mine is done. It only took about 3 weeks. No interview! Yay. Hubby’s birthday is October.

      I was nervous because I got chewed out and threatened to have a warning on my GE by a customs guy last fall for forgetting to declare ham from Spain.

  9. Not trying to be a troll here, but why would you think your wife isn’t capable of clearing customs by herself? Kids I understand, but a grown woman?

    1. Lynn, I don’t think of that comment as a troll comment. I know she can clear customs by herself. However, she’s never had to go through secondary and she would have been more comfortable with us together. She has to handle the kids alone enough on her own when I travel, I don’t want to add stress other times. 🙂

  10. After they threatened (repeatedly) to put me in jail for “trying to smuggle” the banana I’d grabbed on the way out if the lounge at LHR, in spite of my repeated, sincere, and eventually tearful apologies (it was after midnight, New Year’s Eve, and I’d been traveling for over 20 hours), I think a fair number of these agents are nazi-wannabes. Some can be wonderful, but many have to prove how much better than you they are. If I had only one tip for an amateur using the program it would be “grovel.” You behaved exactly as I would have — “yassir Officer, whatever you say, Massa. I don’t know nothin ’bout birthin no babies. I’s sorry.”

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