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.
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