Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to Quickly Get through the Customs Line

I know this isn't the politically correct thing to do – but let's be honest, you've done it before. And if you haven't, odds are you'll start after reading this.

So you wait for twenty minutes in the customs line, only to be faced with choosing a new short line. That one out of twenty booths with little lights on indicating they have an agent ready to service you. Each booth has about ten people in line for it. How do you decide which one to access?

Step 1:
Look at the color of the passports people are holding. The fact of the matter is – people often love Canadians. In Europe you get rushed through, and especially in America. If you see a lot of people with dark blue-green booklets in your hand, you get behind them. [I failed – I was in a line full of maroon. This meant waiting while people were fingerprinted and photographed. Something not required for myself.]

Step 2:
See who looks like they're a big happy family. Sure your line may be fifteen people long, and others are only ten. But families clear together. Six people may all go through at once. Husbands and wives walk up together. Spot the people who seem so much in love – avoid them. They're just dating. Individual waits for the. It's the ones with the deadened “are we there yet” look in their eyes that are your surefire ticket to success. Those are the married ones. Another tip is to see how many custom cards are being carried. One per group. [I failed here too. I should have known the couple looked too happy, but there was only one card. Or so I thought – the girlfriend was holding hers and her boyfriends. Love – it's a crazy thing.

Step 3:
Look out for freaky looking people. You know – those with long hair, or beards, or who are dressed in raggedy clothing – you want to avoid these lines depending on the country you're accessing. From personal experience, I can tell you that this look will get you a nice long wait, and bag search in places like Cuba. Though in America, Japan, Canada, or England this hasn't seemed to pose a problem. [There's nothing better than an armed Cuban searching for drugs that never existed. They'll find zippers and pockets in your pack that you didn't even know existed!]

Step 4:
This is the unfortunate one. Airlines claim they no longer racially profile – it's part of their mandate. And yet there's that Patriot Act and it's best selling sequel Patriot Act II that gives this sort of freedom in America. Other countries don't even pretend to care. So if you want to get through fast, look for the line with the most well dressed white people. It's unfortunate, I know – but when I was in London (where they have little holding pens for people they've pulled aside) the racial profiling was terribly evident.

Step 5:
Assess your agent. Do some lines have only three people, while others have ten? There could be a reason for this. Perhaps your fellow travellers are more perceptive than you. If they get through their line of ten quicker than you get through the two people in front of you, bail. Bail immediately. You do not want anything to do with that agent, for any reason. Do they look sleepy? Tired? Overworked? Underpaid? If they're having a bad day, they might think about doing everything in their power to ensure that you have a bad day too. [I have found perky women, and smiling men are the best way to go. Smiling women, and perky men on the other hand can just be a setup for disaster – you've been warned.]

Wrap Up:
You know when you learned about the nuclear family back in grade two? That family that no one seems to recall having, or even knowing anyone who had it? Well – if on your travels you find yourself in an airport customs line, and they are there. You do everything in your power to make sure you're right behind them.

No – it doesn't always work. Sometimes disaster is bound to strike. Other times your well chosen agent goes off duty right as you walk up. Still, you must do what you can.

Please enjoy a speedier trip through your next disembarkation, on way to the baggage claim.


  1. M, you're brilliant!!! I've done these exercises myself (in single doses), but never have I thought of putting it all together. So succintly, too!

  2. haha! great tips...clearing customs is a..pain-anything to make it go faster is well noted :)


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