Bangkok (Thailand), December 11nd 2009
It is October when Delta Airlines flight 25 arrives at the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta. Atlanta is just a stop over for us, because we are with the family of Edwin on our way to Florida where we are going to enjoy a cruise to celebrate the 40th marriage anniversary of Edwin’s parents. We are travelling in a group of six adults and two young children. The flight from Düsseldorf to Atlanta went surprisingly comfortable, resulting in enough energy for the second stretch from Atlanta to warm Florida. But first we have to pass immigration.
Because we want to record all nice moment of this holiday, Ivonne films the moment when we leave the airplane. It doesn’t take seconds before somebody roars through the hallway: “don’t film here, it will cost you $ 500.- !”. A not so communicative cleaning lady warns us for the possible consequence of making a snapshot of a family outing on the airport of Atlanta. We wonder what the possible problem is filming a family disembarking a plane. Do we really endanger the security of the United States by filming this event? However, we take the advice to heart and follow the signs to the immigration. We arrive in a huge hall where tens of desks are located behind where armed immigration officers are seated to handle the immigration procedures. There are also a dozen or so armed ‘queue managers’ who direct the arrived passengers to the right queues. It is extremely quiet in the hall. This must be the atmosphere in a prison when a new group of freshly convicted inmates arrive. People who dare to stand a little bit out of line are treated with a salvo of not so nice words from one of the queue managers. The guy in front of us accidentally crosses the yellow waiting line with one of his feet resulting in a reprimand. “Welcome to America” is what we say to each other cynically.
When we arrive at the front of the main queue, a queue manager directs us to one of the sub-queues in front of an immigration desk. We want to explain the young lady that we are travelling in a group of eight people and that we want to stay together as a group because we have the same immigration story. But as you probably would expect, thinking is not appreciated and before we spoke two words we were summoned to shut our mouth and to go to the line she told us to go. Result: our group is divided in two groups. Ten minutes later it is our turn to face the immigration officer. The lady behind the desk opens fire on us with all kind of not so relevant questions in our opinion. At the same time, our fingerprints are taken. But it can be worse. In the line next to us, a male traveller, who travels on his own, is literally treated like a dog. He is handled as if he is a suspected terrorist. A second officer joins the questioning and in a high pace all kinds of questions are fired off to him with the goal to get contradictorily answers. We are astonished to see this operating procedure.
We escape the immigration desk unharmed, which means that we officially entered the United States. Edwin’s sister and her family still stand in line at one of the other immigration desks, because their line also has a victim of the profound immigration questions. We want to wait, but of course, it is not allowed. “Proceed!” is what we hear. We finally gather at the luggage belts where some of us are irritated by the way we are treated. “We come here as tourists to spend our money, and they literally treat us as potential terrorists!”. We take our luggage from the belt and proceed to the next horde; customs. Again, we are directed by moody queue managers as if we are pigs waiting to face the chopping block. We take a deep breath, undergo the procedure, and walk further to the last stage; an x-ray to check our cabin luggage. Also here we find no smiling faces or friendly officers who handle us with respect and who wish us a pleasant stay in their country. To the contrary, again we are seen as potential terrorists. The American lady in front of us is also immense annoyed by the way she is treated by her fellow citizens. She makes the problem even wider: “this is America, everybody with stripes on his shoulder thinks that they can treat you like a dog”, is her opinion. We landed just an hour ago, so we are not yet in the position to judge if she is right. But what we know already is that you don’t need a lot of qualifications to be an airport employee in the US. The recruitment advertisement is probably very short: “Wanted: Assholes”.
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