Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Travel Topics > Air Travel
Reload this Page >

Would you be satisfied with this reply from Customs & Border Protection?

Would you be satisfied with this reply from Customs & Border Protection?

Feb 27th, 2011, 05:42 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 272
Would you be satisfied with this reply from Customs & Border Protection?

I was not happy with what I saw at Immigration at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, so I wrote a letter to the Customs and Border Protection. Below is the letter I sent, along with the reply. Outside of not including the names, the letters are not edited.

My question is, if you sent the letter I sent, would you have been satisfied with the response? Obviously, I’m not, otherwise I would not pose the question to you. But I don’t want to mention the specifics because I don’t to prejudice any reply. Thanks for your review, much appreciated!
__________________________________________________ ________________

December 29, 2010

U.S. Customs & Border Protection
Attn CBP Info Center / Rosslyn
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20229

RE: Complaint of Unprofessional Behavior

I wish to file a complaint about the treatment of airlines passengers entering the USA at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I arrived on Monday, December 27 around 7:30 pm.

The queue is set up such that there are about seven lines formed, one for each Agent. (I’m referring only to the line for Americans and Green Card holders returning.) This, alone, is inefficient, as the lines do not move at a uniform speed. A far better method, such as done at London’s Heathrow, or Mexico’s Juarez, is a single line that feeds into the next available Agent. Changing to this style of queuing would be a great improvement right there.

But that’s not my complaint; that’s a just a suggestion.

My complaint is how rude and unprofessional some of the Agents are. The Agent at kiosk number 47 was evidently ending his shift soon, so he approached the end of the line at his desk, and announced – and oh so pleasantly – that no further people would be accepted in his line. That gruffness could have been overlook, hey we all have bad days. But it got worse.

How were the people in the crowd to know that they were not to go into his line? There was no barrier placed, a cone, or anything like that. It’s just expected that hundreds of people were to hear and understand.

Of course, some unknowing people innocently got into his line. His came back out and said them “You two need to go elsewhere!”

Another man got into his line. He shouted at his from his desk “Go back where you were!”

The line I was in suddenly ended too and we had to move to another.

Meanwhile, people were complaining to an Agent in the crowd, “Where do you want us to go? Just tell us! The lines keep shifting.” The Agent told them to “just get back in line.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. On another occasion, an Agent suddenly reversed the entire line of hundreds of people. We were to all suddenly starting forming lines in another direction. In other words, those who were first in line became last, and vice versa.

The overhead monitors were showing a video, with all kinds of smiling facing saying “Welcome” over and over again. The contrast to reality is disgusting, and, as an American, I’m embarrassed that this is the first impression our guests from other countries see.

I ask that the Agent at kiosk number 47 be reprimanded for his extreme rudeness. I would have recorded it, but I chose to comply with regulations. Are you afraid of what we might record? Are you afraid of how people are treated will end up on You Tube?

You effectively hold us hostage between entrance to our country and no man’s land. The treatment we receive should be nothing less than professional.

__________________________________________________ ___________________

Thank you for your complaint letter dated December 29, 2010, regarding your experience with United States Customs and Border Protection (CBT) at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on December 27, 2010. Please allow me to address this situation. After you arrived off United Airlines flight UA542 from Mexico City, Mexico, you allegedly witnessed rude and unprofessional behavior directed at airline passengers at the hands of one or more of our officers and believed the method we used to queue passengers was inefficient. You also recommended that one of our officers be reprimanded for his behavior. We recently completed our review of this matter. Pleased allow me to outline our findings.

Firs, let me apologize for any unpleasantness you may have experience at our Port of Entry. On behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, let me assure you that it is not our intent to subject the traveling public to the treatment or inefficiency you allege. Our Passenger Service Manager (PSM) continually addresses our staff in our daily musters to discuss professionalism and efficiency in the workplace. Let me assure you that we will continue to do this, as we take these matters very seriously. In cases where we are provided the name and of the officer we take appropriate disciplinary action as well.

As far as our queuing method is concerned, we do have serpentine lines setup to allow an awaiting passenger to go the next available agent. At times we may line up several passengers to go to an officer(s) lane to ensure the officer is never idle in or to get the passengers processed as quickly as possible. One thing you can do if you frequently travel or would like to avoid delays, is become a member of CBP’s Trusted Traveler Global Entry program. Once you become a member of this program, you can be fast-tracked by using one of our 10 kiosks bypassing primary inspection. For more information, please go to www.globalentry.gov. Improving missed connection rates is a priority for CBP and the airline industry. Our mission priorities do not change, but the way we conduct our business or processing is ever changing.

In closing, all major U.S. POEs have PSMs with their posters in strategic locations throughout the Federal Inspection Stations (FIS) and phone numbers are listed on each of the posters. Should you have questions or concerns, please ask for a Supervisor or the PSM. Again, please accept our apologies and I thank you for bringing these matters to my attention.


Area Port Director
Rosemont, Illinois 60018
CubFanAlways is offline  
Feb 27th, 2011, 09:22 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,803
You want my honest opinion? IMO you were lucky to get any answer let alone one that actually addressed your comments.

Your letter is all over the place -- inefficient queues, an aside about Heathrow and Juaeez of all places, rude staff, then an anecdote about a totally different event/day, then complaining about not being able to record immigration procedures.

IME scatter shot letters/e-mails are ignored - at least they answered you.

Next time -- try to stick to the point and clearly state your complaint. Tangents, overly emotional language, and long rants don't bolster a case.
janisj is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 02:15 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 22,316
Sorry - I agree with janis. I think the response was appropriate and professional and addressed each of your concerns - except perhaps how Great Britain and Mexico handle their own customs and immigration which is totally unrelated.

If you had limited your actual issue with that time and date, however, the letter might have sounded like - the line was too long, it wasn't fair who went first, and the guy was rude. Which might not present you in the best light either.

It appears based on your description that the specific Agent was left in a position of having to try to do crowd control as well as his job. But in cases like this I prefer to pick my battles - I see lines at Customs and Immigration a necessary evil and just people watch while waiting and deal with it. You are certainly entitled, however, to take issue and write a complaint about whatever you feel is important.
gail is offline  
Feb 28th, 2011, 02:53 AM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 10,347
Yes, I think the response is ok.

What response were you looking for?
J62 is offline  
Feb 28th, 2011, 04:23 AM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 12,269
You seem to be judging and grudging a lot

Seems like nothing even directly happened to you to cause harm

Customs at best is like herding kittens in busy airport.

The officers are overworked and underpaid for all

the clueless newbies they have to deal with.

Saw the reponse as courteous contructive suggesting

a positive solution Global Entry if you need it.

Better than your non-specific disjointed negative letter.
qwovadis is offline  
Feb 28th, 2011, 08:09 AM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 3,879
Yeah, I hate to keep dumping on you, but it was a nice, courteous response and it addressed your concerns. Your letter was angry, rambling, and hard to follow.

I'd have left it at your suggestion for the one uniform line. DFW does that and I like it. It seems fairer. That's the root of the problem that happened to you at ORD if they're using individual lines for each window.

As far as what Agent 47 did and you wanting him reprimanded, I'd leave that stuff out.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  
Feb 28th, 2011, 08:48 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 272
I see some familiar names, one’s that I’ve come to respect their comments on other questions, so I appreciate your straightforward replies. Especially you Jeff, always polite and reasonable, and yes, you nailed the root cause. (At ORD they serpentine to a point, then it transforms into queuing in each lane.) I know I could have writen a much better letter. Guess I was the one off base here!
CubFanAlways is offline  
Feb 28th, 2011, 09:47 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,646
The poster is right about the lines if the situation was as described. It is ridiculous to have 7 lines for 7 officers.

I don't understand why one or more lines was reversed, but I believe that the CBP could and should have a method for not doing that. If it was a matter of one officer going off shift and another one coming on then the new one should just staff the original position until there is a lull in arrivals.

And if a line is ended, for whatever reason, there should be a way to communicate that fact to people who try to enter the line other than the officer having to shout. Put up a sign, pull the strap between posts to close off the line.

The reply by the CBP was a very good one. It disagrees with the facts stated by the OP. The CBP says that they have a serpentine line and sometimes have a dedicated line to one officer when that is (somehow) more efficient.

That port director who replied might not have done the best job of investigating the situation or responding. S/he may not have investigated whether or not a serpentine line was being used that day at that time and just assumed that was the case, because that is the standard procedure. The reply is not clear on that. The port director might have missed the opportunity to make sure the standard procedure is always followed.

As far as complaining about perceived rudeness, I think that the OP was correct in complaining and in offering a remedy - not just register a complaint but due to its perceived gravity insist that something be done.

I can't tell if the officer was rude or not. I wasn't there. But the officer has the authority to give orders and that is what it sounds like he did. Some people perceive orders as rudeness, as if saying "please" would make it any less of an order.

The officer may have been frustrated that day and time by the messed up system and expressed that frustration to pax somehow (rude or not) or he maybe he was just having a bad day. In either case, that would that would be unacceptable if I was the port director. Not knowing for a fact that the employee was rude, the port director shouldn't reprimand the employee. It would be bad for the employee's morale to be singled out and when the emmployee related that to his coworkers it would be bad for their morale.

I think that the daily musters and discussion of professionalism is a good way to deal with employees who are frustrated or having a bad day. The "be nice to our customers" speech addressed to the whole team is better than singling out each employee every time an unverified rudeness complaint is filed.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 10:01 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,646
CubFanAlways, I was writing that when you made your last post. I don't think you were off base in writing that letter.

The letter wasn't clear to me. From your last post I understand now that there was a serpentine line and from that people lined up at each CBP station. I have seen that and those separate lines are usually on 1 to 3 or 4 people. If it was like that then I would have just known what to do if the station closed while I was in that line. I wouldn't need to be told what to do, I would just go back to the head of the line and be "next".
mrwunrfl is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 10:02 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,646
And I think it is valid for the officer to assume that I knew what to do.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 10:08 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,646
Actually, now that I understand (I think) about separate lines the officer(s) did tell you and others what to do: "go back where you wre" and "get back in line" (i.e. get back to where you were at the head of the serpentine line)
mrwunrfl is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 10:58 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,803
mrwunrfl : ". . . I don't think you were off base in writing that letter.

The letter wasn't clear to me . . .

Isn't that the point -- no one said he was off base or shouldn't have written a letter if he had a problem. Only that THIS letter wasn't very clear/ well written/or focused . . .
janisj is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 01:13 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 1,491
Doesn't matter whether you or I or the man in the moon is satisfied with the reply. That's what it is, and I'd agree you're lucky to even get a reply. BTW, in my experience it's not 'ridiculous to have 7 lines for 7 officers' (mrwunrfl) at all and is in fact very common in other countries to find separate queues like you describe, one for each agent.

It's also common to find a lot of arriving passengers out-of-sorts with whatever the setup is, after a long flight. And it's common to find a lot of out-of-sorts immigration agents as they approach the end of a long shift dealing with out-of-sorts arriving passengers.
julia1 is offline  
Feb 28th, 2011, 02:28 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 3,879
No, I don't think you were off base. The question about the serpentine line is a good one. They should implement that system if they're not. That way, nobody is at risk if they pick the "wrong" line. I just would have stopped there. That's all.

DFW uses the serpentine system, then when you get to the front, one of the volunteer DFW Ambassador folks directs you to a window.

I like the DFW Ambassadors. I assume they're volunteers, usually of retirment age and they're positioned throughout the airport to give information. You recognize them by their vests and cowboy hats. It's very Texas.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  
Feb 28th, 2011, 02:51 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 3,075
The question about the serpentine line is a good one. They should implement that system if they're not.

I've done international arrivals at ORD dozens of times (it's home). For US citizens/green card holders, I've always encountered one serpentine line (sometimes long, sometimes not) that winds its way up toward the immigration booths. At the head of the line, there's usually a person who directs you to go to line up at a particular booth. At most, there are usually 6-8 people in the booth lines; there's really no room for any more people than that. And most of the time those move fairly quickly (in other words, I usually spend far more time in the serpentine part of the line).

Most of the time, I'm just happy that I'm not in the visitors' line--I've seen some truly awful queues for that in the past. We've now completed Global Entry registration and hopefully won't have to deal with this anymore.
ms_go is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 05:25 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,646
janisj, the OP said s/he guessed he was off-base. I was disagreeing with that. We can disagree about coming into a place and finding seven different lines to get to seven different customer service people.

But I came to understand that it starts as one serpentine line and the next person in that line goes to a mini-line at each agent's station. That is what ms_go describes.

That is what OP is complaining with that. The 6-8 people in line at each window that ms_go describes is too much, IMHO, and worthy of complaint (even ridicule). The OP is complaining about the actual implementation of that serpentine system and I think it is an excellent complaint.

To answer the question: yes, I would be (am) satisfied with that response. I don't think the OP was lucky to get a response. a response to a complaint by a customer is to be expected, even one that is not clear.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Feb 28th, 2011, 06:12 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 22,316
Reread the complaint letter from OP - the line reversal issue was on "another occasion" - not the one with the rude agent.

And as far as the rudeness being the first thing visitors to US see ("our guests") - I though the complaint referred to the lines exclusively for returning citizens and green card holders - although I do not believe one group or the other is more entitled to rudeness.

If I am correct, on 12/27 the OP takes issue with 3 things - 1) inefficient line arrangements; 2) rude agent; 3) confusing and perhaps contradictory directions.
gail is offline  
Mar 1st, 2011, 08:56 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,646
I think you are correct, gail. What is your point? I don't see how it matters if it was one occasion or not. Wasn't the only comment about the non-U.S. line was that ms_go thought it was worse?
mrwunrfl is online now  
Mar 1st, 2011, 09:21 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,646
Actually, "inefficient line arrangment" is actually two issues: 1) the serpentine line becoming not-short-enough individual lines and 2) the line reversal on the other occaision.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Mar 4th, 2011, 07:35 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 272
Thanks for your input. A few lessons learned. For example, don’t write a letter, or at least don’t send it, while you are angry. Sitting on it for a day or two would have produced a more succinct, to the point, letter. I know better than to ramble and bungled that.

Using London’s Heathrow and Mexico City’s Juarez as examples “of all places.”? They are both large international airports, just like Chicago’s O’Hare. Next time I’ll refer to Cuenca or Nairobi

Sorry, I must respectfully disagree about being simply fortunate to receive a reply. I have no trouble holding government’s feet to the fire.

Finally, to clarify the queuing at O’Hare, there is a serpentine line. But it does not feed people into stations one-by-one as they open up, like they do in London’s Heathrow and Mexico City’s Juarez, (and perhaps Cuenca and Nairobi too.)

Instead, about twelve separate lines are formed, once for each officer. It’s these individual lines that have suddenly closed. There isn’t a lot of space where one simply “steps over” to another line. Imagine a grocery store check-out closing, except that you can’t “go backwards” as easily.

Thanks again, see you next time.
CubFanAlways is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:59 PM.