Why I don’t travel to the US these days

Ian Hobson has been discovering what’s so painful about travelling to the US: getting between your plane and the street.

My flight was relatively on-time. However, as I turned the corner into immigration, I couldn’t believe what I saw.There were at least 1000 people in front of me… It took me almost 2 hours to get through – not what I wanted at 4am in the morning UK time…instead of arranging your transport; you do absolutely NOTHING for 2 hours but stand and shuffle your bags a few metres at a time. When you do get out, the transport is a mess – complete gridlock because relatives have come to pick up people, and instead of just doing a pick up, the whole place is a parking lot… On returning to the UK, I disembarked (or de-planed as I’ve heard say) via a bus, went through customs, got a taxi home to SW London all in under 50 minutes. If I’d been an American, I doubt it would have taken any longer. While it was a longer line here than I’ve been used to, and slower moving, it was NOTHING like the US. Anyone considering a shopping trip to NY should seriously factor in that a 7 hour flight these days is more like a 13 hour home-to-hotel trip, and IMHO you’ve got to save a lot of money to justify losing 26 hours of your life on a return trip.

Personally, I’ve been putting off invites to the US for a couple of years now, for two reasons: you have to fight for a journalist visa down at the US Embassy, in person; and you then get treated like a suspect for having the temerity to show up and seek to get in. I’ve told Dell, Adobe and Messagelabs (certainly the first two, I think the latter) that my reason for turning down offers to meet their people in the US is because of the huge pain going there now involves.


  1. The other problem is that while you’re queuing in the extraordinarily long immigration queue, your bag is floating around the luggage carousel for those two hours allowing ANYONE to pick it up. On a recent trip, my bag had been going around for so long, it’d been put to one side by the time I got through immigration.


  2. There’s also a piece in the current Spectator about how our customs lackeys treat foreign visitors, particularly those from English-speaking countries like Australia. They are internationally notorious for it and their attitude is even mentioned in the Rough Guide “First Time Europe” book. Perhaps all of the countries involved need to work together to ensure that we can visit each other’s countries without this unncessary and in some cases malicious harrassment.

  3. If you’ve flying to DC, fly into Balitmore instead. Its just as close to Washington as Washington Dulles airport, and the lines are a lot shorter (plus the immigration officials are friendly).

  4. Like the man says, pick your airport and you flight times carefully. eg, Philadelphia used to be horrendous, but since they built the new terminal you whizz through (though it’s best to be on the first of the day’s flights from the UK rather than the last).

    And don’t check baggage. If you have enough frequent flier miles, upgrade to business — that also gets you out faster (at least, off the plane faster).

    Of course, I can be smug about this, since I have local passports in both US and EU, and it’s years since it’s taken me longer than half an hour to get out of any airport from the time the plane has landed….

    (You know you’re a travel nerd when you start critiquing the plane schedules in movies: “You *can’t* be landing in London from NYC at 4pm, no one has a flight that leaves New York at 4am, which is what it would have to do…”)

  5. Flying back into the UK has also got pretty bad as well well it comes to waiting in line.

    On a return flight from Berlin into Luton, the EU line was about 500 people, the non-EU was about 20.

    Non-EU was going through quicker despite having to get passports stamped.

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