Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Coming Home Isn't Easy


Who knew that getting back home would be such a hassle. Going through customs from Botswana to South Africa is a piece of cake. You show your passport, they stamp it and then you walk through the side of the exit that says, "Nothing to Declare." In Johannesburg we even had time to go through customs, pick up the bags we had stored, go through the process to get our tourist tax refund, check in to our flight and go through security with over an hour to spare.

Then it got interesting. When we got to the Delta gate we had to go through security again. This meant a pat-down and a physical inspection of all our carry-ons. When asked why only those of us going to the US had this extra security check, the inspector said, "You Americans don't even trust yourselves." I just smiled since what he said certainly seems to be true.

Even more bizarrely, after we got through passport control and customs in Atlanta, we had to go through ANOTHER security check. This one was the most extensive yet. To begin with our bags had to be rechecked to come out of a baggage claim on the other side of the airport. Then we went through the full security check: remove shoes and electronics and everything from all your pockets, just like we were boarding a plane. We did all that wondering why it was harder to get out of the airport than it had been to get on the plane in the first place. Europe and Africa don't haven't required the removal of the shoes for years now.

We were also supposed to make sure we put any liquids we had purchased duty free into the baggage we had rechecked. Unfortunately, we didn't understand that part of the instructions so we still had the bottle of Amarula we had purchased in the duty free shop with us. So Linda got to go all the way back and check another bag so we could get out of the airport. When I asked the TSA lady why we had to do all this, her reply was that it's the rule. When I asked why that was the rule, she told me that is the way it has always been that way in Atlanta, even though it is not that way anywhere else we have re-entered the country.

While Linda was gone for the 15 minutes it took to go back and check a bag with the Amarula, I asked someone at the information booth at the end of the security check. He explained that the design of the Atlanta Airport means that when we left the international arrivals area, we were still within the secure zone, so all this is really necessary. When I told him what the TSA lady had told me that was because that is how TSA responds, but that as a citizen, traveler and pilot, he would do better. He also said that a new international terminal will open on May 16 and this extra security will not be necessary. It is so nice to talk to someone who will actually listen to the question and respond with a reasonable answer. At least now we understand why this seemingly ridiculous policy is in place.

The sad thing is that this all makes us seem so unwelcome to visitors from other countries. As a nation we are so paranoid that we make our guests feel unwelcome before they are even allowed in the country.

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