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Last week when we were re-entering the United States after being out of the country, we had a less than warm and fuzzy customs and border patrol experience at LAX, even with Global Entry. I chalked it up to bad luck and a “culture of grumpiness” at some entry points (compared to much of the rest of the world), but upon further review I think some of the details are worth a mention here as they were issues related to traveling with a family that could potentially be avoided.
(Literally) Hold Your Own Passport:
With Global Entry you go to an unmanned kiosk, have the machine take your picture (which is always quite cute after hours/days of travel), scan your fingerprints, and answer the Customs Declarations questions that you would need to answer on a written form if you didn’t have Global Entry. The machine then prints out a receipt that you hand to a nearby officer in a special Global Entry lane. Assuming you didn’t get an X or O on your receipt, your experience is potentially now pretty much over if you don’t have to catch a connecting flight or obtain your checked bags.
When I normally go through this process in Houston it takes about a minute and it is usually a no fuss situation. I assume is quite a formal process for Customs and Border Patrol behind the scenes, but thankfully as a traveler it is very easy and simple. When we entered in LAX (you have to go through this wherever your first port of entry is in the US), we went through the normal process with the machines, had our receipts checked by a CBP officer who was located at a desk next to the machines, and then were directed to another customs line before we could get to our connecting flights.
As is usual in our travels, my husband takes the lead with the bags when needed, and I take the lead with keeping all the passports and tickets together in one spot. It’s a habit we developed when traveling with our daughter and all her stuff, but it works for us pretty well when it is just the two of us as well. We were carrying our own bags, but we approached the customs officer together with the passports and Global Entry receipts all in my hand. Upon seeing this the customs officer immediately started fussing at us like we were 3 year olds who spilled our juice on the couch for the 10th time that day. In fact, I hope even 3 year olds aren’t fussed at like this.
He stated we should know better and you can’t handle each other’s bags or passports or approach the customs officer together and yada yada yada. He was quite grumpy which didn’t help us receive the message well, but that aside, I had never even heard this information before, and I am not a Global Entry novice. A search after the event on their website still turned up nothing for me in terms of these rules. Perhaps more confusingly the Customs Declaration form is one per family and says things like “I am (we are)”, so again this was from left field for us that it was to be such a starkly different process if all members of your family have Global Entry. Following rules is hard when you have never heard them (or at least never remembered hearing them), and have never seen them enforced that way.
Pack and Carry Your Own Bags:
What actually made me share this experience was a friend posting on Facebook today that he was re-entering the US in Seattle yesterday and CBP was doing a Global Entry Compliance check on his flight. Several people on the flight that had Global Entry (including him) were sent to secondary screening and asked to describe the entire contents of their bag. There was one couple in the group sent to secondary who had mixed some of their items together in their bags, and apparently this was a very big no-no that got them scolded, and according to my friend, potentially kicked out of the program it was viewed as that big of a no-no.
I can guarantee that on almost every trip, some of my items make their way into Josh’s bag as guys simply don’t need as much stuff, and he usually has more available room. Between curling irons, make-up, more toiletries, more shoes, etc. than he has, I make use of his unused space. When our daughter is with us, this issue is just further compounded as sometimes by the end of the trip we just want all of our stuff to make it home. We could care less which bag it fits in. Well, apparently customs and border patrol cares quite a bit, at least if you have Global Entry. Not only must you only carry your documents and approach the officer one at a time, but you sure as heck better not add your curling iron into your husband’s bag.
The officer that scolded us in LAX did say it would be different if a kid was with us, but I’m not 100% sure what that meant. Did that mean my four year old (who does have Global Entry and NEXUS) could approach with one of us, or does it mean all three of us could then go together? I don’t know. Does it mean her stuff could be in one of our bags, but the adults need to keep their stuff separate? I don’t know.
What I do know is that these two data points were similar enough, close enough together in timing, and issues new to both me and my Global Entry seasoned friend to warrant mentioning. I am sure these rules about not mixing with your family or travel partners are written somewhere, so if anyone knows where these rules are please share so we can keep traveling families from the wrath of customs, and keep them from potentially losing their Global Entry privileges. In the meantime, I would do your best to keep things separate both in terms of packing, and when going through customs upon your return to the United States.
As a side note, I am all for security and following rules, but….sigh. Let’s make it clear, easy, logical, and professional. Please.