Last week we took a brief (4 days) trip to Iceland with our eldest son, daughter-in-law and the apple-of-our-eyes granddaughter, Joy. It was a nice, relaxing weekend in a fascinating place we’d never seen. Then we flew home, while the rest of the family travelled on to vacation in Ireland and England.
The trip home was longer than anticipated due to a four-hour time difference and an unexpectedly long border crossing into the U.S. at Dulles International Airport on a typically busy Wednesday evening. Our Icelandair flight took us to the midfield terminal where the mobile lounge was delayed about 30 minutes. And, at the main terminal, we were shocked to find ourselves behind several hundred tired travellers in the U.S. residents’ line with only three Customs and Border Protection agents on duty in 31 booths to process both residents and non-residents in the endless Disney World-style queues. I initially thought there was a shift change under way and that more agents would no doubt show up. But, no! The 28 booths would remain empty for the nearly three hours that we spent in the queue. When we left, they were still empty for the crowd of weary travelers which had grown substantially while we waited our turn.
In addition to passengers ending their travel in Washington, there were some who were in transit and were unable to get assistance to bypass the traffic jam and make their connections. In other words, there were a lot of unhappy people.
Not being a patient sort, I wanted some explanation about the seemingly needless inconvenience that many hundreds of people were experiencing. But there was almost no one to ask, besides the three already overwhelmed agents actually working. I was able to snag one uniformed airport employee passing by and inquire about the mess. He offered this explanation. “Five officers called in and took leave.” I asked if this was a job action of some sort. He just shrugged his shoulders. When we finally got waved in for processing, I asked the CBP officer what was going on. He had a different explanation. He said with a smile that a lot of officers were being reassigned to the southern border. Really, I asked? Big smile and a nod. He asked me to look into the tiny camera and said “welcome home” as we left. So, I have two possible, very unofficial explanations. Either seems plausible to me. The CBP website wasn’t much help beyond a mention of an estimated 65,000 total CBP staff nationwide. A huge number, but they have a lot to cover. Poor management could well be a contributing factor and also seems entirely plausible in the current environment.
In any case, be advised. If you are planning to fly out of Dulles or arrive at Dulles on an international flight, you’ll want to allow a good chunk of additional time for getting through the processes. The same may apply to National and BWI as well.
I am happy to be able to report that in the three hours we spent in the queue, we did not see any children being yanked away from their parents or guardians. In the current environment, that is good news!