Rude US Customs Officials: How Not To Welcome People To The United States

U.S. CustomsSome people should not be allowed to wear a uniform.

While flying from Spain to the U.S. to attend the Gadling annual team summit, I touched down first at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. I got into line at U.S. Customs to enter the country.

The line was in a huge room with a row of bulletproof glass booths manned by U.S. Customs & Border Protection officials checking passports and visas. These booths blocked entrance to the baggage claim area and, officially, the United States. The line for U.S. citizens and Green Card holders was long but moving steadily thanks to several booths being open and the generally efficient work of the U.S. Customs folks manning them.

The line for foreigners was a different story. Only one booth was open and the line was practically at a standstill. There was a bit of grumbling in various languages but no loud complaining. Everyone just stood there looking jetlagged while watching a big flat screen TV hanging over the booths.

It was playing a promotional video about all the things to see in the United States. Images of the Grand Canyon, Alamo, Yosemite and other great attractions flickered across the screen, interspersed with a diversity of smiling Americans saying, “Welcome.”

As I waited my turn, one woman in her early twenties who looked like she was from Southeast Asia walked up to the head of the foreigners’ line where an airport worker stood.

“Excuse me,” the Asian woman said with a heavy accent, holding out her ticket, “I will be late for flight.”

“There’s nothing I can do,” the worker said, waving her off. “Get back in line.”

“But the flight–“

“Wait in line!”

The Asian woman quickly retreated, looking at her watch.I was about to shrug this off as Case #4,589,513 of Airport Rudeness when the tale took a turn for the worse. After a couple of minutes, the airport worker called over a U.S. Customs officer. I hesitate to describe him because you might think I’m exaggerating, but believe me when I say he was short, with a big paunch and black, greased back hair. His face was also greasy and over a poorly trimmed mustache he had a big, pockmarked nose – a boozer’s nose, a Bukowski nose.

The airport official said something to him and pointed at the Asian woman. The passenger looked over hopefully. The officer summoned her by jutting his chin in her direction.

The woman approached with her ticket held out.

“Excuse me. I am late for flight. . .”

The officer gestured at the ticket.

“What’s this?”

“My flight. . .”

“So you’re late? Everybody’s late! Hey, is anyone else here late?”

“I am!” some British wanker chimed in.

“Go,” the Customs agent said, dismissing her with a wave of the hand.

She stood there a moment, looking confused.

“Get back in line!” he shouted.

I almost said something. I almost said, “I’m not late for my flight. I have a three-hour layover. She can go in front of me. And stop being so unprofessional.”

But I didn’t. Unlike last month’s run-in with a rude airport security official, I was trying to enter a country, not leave one, and speaking up against this lowlife wouldn’t help the Asian woman and would almost certainly get me in trouble. So I didn’t say anything. I still feel bad about it, but there really wasn’t anything I could do. The fact that he did this within full sight of several of his coworkers showed that his work environment didn’t discourage that sort of thing.

Another small man with a bit of power treating other people like dirt.

We kept waiting in line as a succession of TV Americans welcomed us with big smiles. After a while the Asian woman stopped looking at her watch. She’d missed her flight.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Airline Madness: Rude airline staff vs. Legroom

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

gadling airline madness rude staff legroom

Our final second round Airline Madness match-up features two classic airline pet peeves. #6 seed Rude airline staff struck a chord with voters and advanced with a dominating performance. It appears that many of you are fed up with poor customer service and terse answers to reasonable questions. Meanwhile, we learned that tight spaces are not just a tall person problem. Even average-sized passengers complained that airplanes lack legroom, which explains why #3 seed Legroom stormed through the first round. But which of these prolific peeves will annoy its way into the Final Four? Your votes below will decide.#7 Rude airline staff
What happened to “the customer is always right”? While airline employees don’t need to acquiesce to every obnoxious customer request, they should treat passengers with respect and seek to be calming, helpful members of the travel experience. Sadly, though, too many gate agents, flight attendants and airport staff are short-tempered, ill mannered and jaded. When customers need help most, they often encounter attitudes that simply exacerbate the problem.

#2 Legroom
The average seat pitch in economy class is between 29 inches and 30 inches. That doesn’t allow for much legroom, no matter how much thinner they make the seat-backs. You don’t need to be freakishly tall to feel cramped once you fold yourself into your seat. Want more legroom? Well, now the airlines make you pay for exit row seats or “Premium Economy,” which is nothing more than an economy seat with the legroom that was offered to everyone a decade ago. These days, you might have more personal space in a dog crate in the luggage compartment.

One of these classic airline annoyances will be continuing its quest to be named Airline Madness champion. Let us know which one you think is worse.
%Poll-74025%
Second round voting ends at 11:59PM EDT on Friday, March 23.

More Airline Madness:
Second round match-ups:
#1 Annoying Passengers vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
#12 Inattentive parents of crying babies vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #3 Lack of free food/prices for food
First round match-ups
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures
#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#5 Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Airline Madness Second Round

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

Just like in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the first round of Airline Madness saw some major upsets. The #12 seed, Inattentive parents of crying babies, and #13 seeded Obese people who take up two seats won their first round match-ups with ease against higher seeded opponents. In fact, Obese people who take up two seats received the second-most votes of any peeve in the first round. Meanwhile, we finally settled the debate between seat recliners and people who hate seat recliners, with the haters being deemed the more annoying passengers. In the rest of our first round match-ups, the higher seeded teams advanced with dominating victories. That, of course, brings us to the second round, which features some very intriguing match-ups. Read on to see who’s battling to move on to the Final Four!Voting will be open on all second round match-ups today with their own posts on the site. Here’s what you have to look forward to: [Update: voting in second round match-ups is now closed.]

gadling airline madness annoying passengers recline seats

More Airline Madness:
First round match-ups
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures
#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#5 Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Airline Madness: Rude airline staff vs. Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

gadling airline madness rude staff electronic devices

Our penultimate first round Airline Madness match-up pits #7 Rude airline staff against #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff and landing. While we almost expect other passengers to be obnoxious, airline employees work in customer service positions and should conduct themselves accordingly. Yet, short tempers, terse responses and ambivalent tones seem to be the norm when dealing with the folks in uniforms. We’re also infuriated by having to turn off our electronic devices during takeoff and landing despite insufficient evidence to support whether these practices are even necessary.

We have more to say on both of these peeves – and your chance to vote – below.#7 Rude airline staff
What happened to “the customer is always right”? While airline employees don’t need to acquiesce to every obnoxious customer request, they should treat passengers with respect and seek to be calming, helpful members of the travel experience. Sadly, though, too many gate agents, flight attendants and airport staff are short-tempered, ill-mannered and jaded. When customers need help most, they often encounter attitudes that simply exacerbate the problem.

#10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
As previously mentioned, little-to-no evidence exists that electronic devices actually pose a risk to airplane equipment. This is particularly true for devices that do not have data access or have been switched into airplane mode. Why should we have to turn off our music and put away our Kindles simply because the cabin door has closed (especially when, as is often the case, takeoff is still 30 minutes away)? If you’ve ever been on a flight in which you heard somebody’s cell phone ring and then landed safely, you know that even mobile phone service isn’t interfering with the captain’s ability to control the plane.

Only one of these annoyances will punch its ticket for the second round. Vote for the one that you simply can’t stand and let us know why you feel that way in the comments.
%Poll-73831%
First round voting ends at 11:59PM EDT on Friday, March 16.

More Airline Madness:
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures
#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#5 Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.