Friday, July 11, 2014


Kudos for Customs
At Miami International


I recently was reading travelers' rants about U.S. Customs at Miami International (MIA).

All of the wailing and gnashing of teeth seemed to be from visitors to the Several States.

Maybe some of the complaints actually were about TSA, but it all got dumped on the people of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) which, sadly, is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); DHS also, again unfortunately, controls the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

I have been flying in and out of MIA since it was "owned" by Eastern Air Lines (EAL), National Air Lines (NAL), and Pan American Airways (PAA) and was the home to CIA-cover Southern Air Transport, for which I briefly worked as a "metal pickler." (You had to be there.)

Eastern Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation

Each time I came through U.S. Customs in Miami was a good time.

No hassles.


Flight from TLV

When our First Born was about 10 months old we flew from TLV (Lod, Israel) via El Al to MIA. We were relocating and had a number of suitcases and carry-ons (this was before the limits were imposed).

Baby in hand we stood, briefly, in line. Seeing Mother and Child (and weary father with loads of luggage) a Customs agent opened a line and called us over to be the first.

He asked what we had in the bags and told me to put a red carry on on the inspection table.

"What's in that bag?" he asked. "Dirty diapers," we responded. This was the day of cloth diapers and it was a long flight.

"Open the bag." Naturally I complied. One whiff and we had cleared Customs.

Welcome to JFK

After a series of long flights I dragged myself to Customs at MIA where I was greeted by a smiling Customs agent with "Welcome to New York." I was tired, but not so tired that I didn't get his humor. I staggered on to my waiting ride, but I was smiling.

Leaving Town

Somehow, and I'm not certain how or why, when the Spouse and I flew out of MIA toward Barcelona (BCN) - a nice airport, incidentally - we managed to get a priority pass through TSA. We still had to take computers out of bags, but we kept our shoes and belts as we were scanned. Lines, both priority and "regular" were moving along nicely, but arriving as requested 3 hours before boarding still is advised.

On the Other Hand

We flew from TLV to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) where Customs decided a can of olives was suspicious. We were sidetracked to an inspection table where the Spouse had to retrieve the can and show it to the agents. Was it because of our point of origin? That crossed our minds.

What DOES Bother Me

I am bothered by two and a half things.

Why repeated personal inspections?

My luggage and I pass inspection at the originating airport, say MIA.

Theoretically, nothing dangerous or contraband gets pass the TSA screeners. Air crews are checked. Vendor personnel are checked. So I should be "good to go." (As I write this I can think of any number of ways to get weapons or contraband past TSA's watchful eyes.)

I get to my intermediate destination - say London Heathrow (LHR). I get off my plane and head to my connecting flight (that always seems to be at the other end of the mile-long terminal building). BUT, before I can go to the boarding gate for my outbound flight I must run the gauntlet of the local version of TSA.

I have not been out of the international terminal, always behind the inspection checkpoint, areas; where, when could I have acquired something that would endanger anyone?

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) isolates international travelers and holds them in large a glass-on-three-sides room. As long as passengers stay within the isolation area, there are no additional personal inspections.

Why has TLV apparently given up passenger profiling and opted for electronic inspections?

I have flown into and out of Israel since 1975.

On my first flight to Israel, via El Al, I had two large duffle bags. As passengers waited for boarding instructions I was asked the usual questions.

Did I pack the bags myself? (Yes)

Have the bags been in my possession since I packed them? (Yes)

Did anyone give me anything to carry with me to Israel? (No)

When I returned to the States, I was asked the same questions, plus where did I go in Israel and what did I do while I was in country.

No scanners.

No wands.

Just profiling.

The last time I left Israel, my luggage was scanned (and I had to show the inspector my two bottles of arak I had in my checked bag) and I walked through a metal detector similar to the ones in the U.S., except I kept my shoes on. (Another traveler had a can of something that showed up on the luggage scanner. The inspector asked the traveler what was in the can "Olives?" "No," the traveler replied. I don't recall what the traveler said was in the can, but the inspector passed him along without removing the can for inspection.

Why do the Supremes insist that profiling is illegal?

Profiling works for the Israelis. How well? How many El Al flights have been high jacked? How many flights leaving Israel have been high jacked? Go a step father: how many planes destined for Israel have been high jacked? (Israeli inspectors check all passengers on all flights to Israel, even if the passengers are unaware of this.)

If it works so well for Israel, why are the Supremes (U.S. Supreme Count justices) so against profiling in America.

Civil rights.

Criminals' rights.

A Florida Highway Patrolman developed a profile that helped him arrest a record number of drug traffickers. Then the courts discovered his technique and he was admonished to cease and desist and some of his arrests were tossed out. (What's wrong with this picture?)

The Feds (FBI, CIA, probably DHS) use profiling. But TSA and Customs are forbidden the training and implementation of the tool.

Back to Miami

I've traveled through a number of airports - in the U.S. and overseas - and I will rate MIA as a "pretty good" place to get off a plane.

Granted, it’s a lot bigger than it used to be back with I "worked for the CIA," but without exception my experience with Customs has been a pleasure.

Southern Air Transport C-130 Hercules

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