It’s by far the most staffed unit at Washington Dulles International Airport if one is to make a headcount. There are many officials who by every measure seem to be doing lots of work till that moment when you are asked to step aside to have them verify your travel documents or check your luggage to be finally let into the country.
My first impression was fast thwarted upon going through their unit. After 23 hours of travel and enduring the long line to check-in, I heaved a sigh of relief as I walked down the hallway to the arrival section. I was stopped as I headed to the exit and asked to hand in my passport and the DS-2019 form for another inspection process. As I reached out to ask about this process, I was asked to sit and WAIT!
Ideally, waiting wouldn’t have been a problem if I had been provided with basic information on why I had to wait and for how long but it was all left to me to figure out. After an hour, i chose to seek for answers for the long period without a response upon which I was still politely told to wait. Two hours later, my patience run out and I moved to one of the counters to demand for an explanation.
One official, a young guy who looked a new recruit with lots of energy swung in and rudely assured me to wait. I requested to talk to someone who had a better answer and in the ensuing not so friendly exchange, his senior showed up. He picked up my documents from the counter, looked through them and handed them back to me. The verification was done, just like that!
I swore silently never to pass through the same airport but I later realized that the encounter was just preparing me for a series that I had to get accustomed to. Returning from a conference recently, I was asked to go through the same procedure. ‘There we go’ was my initial reaction but unlike the first time, this one time, I walked straight to the lobby, sat down and waited!
Looking at the customs officials pacing all over the hallway, my idle mind painted a picture of a classic reaction to paranoia born out of the illusion of imminent attack by any non US citizen. The security requirement of intense scrutiny was evident requiring two hours verifying one travel document (DS 2019) issued by their own government. At the end of my long wait, I could still afford a smile and a word of thanks to the customs officials for a great and ‘EFFICIENT’ service.