Part 1 of 2
The first time I realized I had a problem was when my family and I were stopped at the airport ticket counter in Rome as we were trying to return home. The ticket agent ran our tickets, got on the phone, spoke some Italian and told us to step aside for a few minutes. That turned into 20 minutes and a few more phone calls before we were allowed into the airport proper. “I’m not sure what the hold up was,” she said. “Something about your name.”
The second time my name became a problem was after I flew into Philadelphia from Paris. The immigration agent took my passport, tapped on his computer, looked at me, and asked me to come with him.
“There’s a flag on your name,” he said as we walked to a holding area. “We need to check on a few things. It’s clear, though, you’re an American citizen so don’t worry. I’m sure it’s nothing, and you won’t have to wait. They’ll put your passport on top.”
He took me to a room the size of a small airport gate, filled with people and half a dozen men dressed in blue uniforms and badges. He gave my passport to an officer at a desk and it was put in a pile that was about three inches high. It didn’t appear that I was going to get any priority. I found a seat.
All around me, people trying to enter the U.S. were talking to each other and to officers. Many of them didn’t speak English. The officers were all business and dead serious; how they understood the various responses in different languages was beyond me. I watched one officer question a woman in a hajib until she began to cry in the middle of the room. She was trying to answer her questions in another language, Italian, I think. He told her to sit down, and he put her passport back on the desk. A man they took into another room. I don’t know what happened to either of them.
I didn’t see anyone given a smile and told to go on their merry way.
After 20 minutes, I began to wonder what would happen to me.
I thought about my connecting flight and was tempted to go to the counter and say that the immigration agent said I would get priority, but the looks on the officers’ faces suggested to me that that was a bad idea. I imagined the officer looking through the passports, finding mine, and putting it at the bottom of the pile. I waited.
After another 10 minutes, my name was called, an agent put my passport on the counter and said I was free to go.
“What was this all about?” I asked.
“You’re free to go, sir,” she said, and pointed to the door.
Apparently, my name was on this list.
Coming Thursday: “Wait. I got Global Entry so this WOULDN’T happen”