Friday, 30 July 2010
(you are not) Welcome to the USA
New York is probably my favourite city in the Western World although London can sometimes edge it out ever so slightly when the sun is out. So in this vein I was psyched about my recent holiday plans and inspite of extremely poor customer service on the Delta airlines flight, I was still looking forward to spending time in the insanely busy NYC.
After enduring an 8 hour flight - God knows why or when it started taking so long to go from London to the East Coast of America, followed by an hour on the tarmac waiting for a space to park and then according to the clearly incompetent pilot, for 'a million pound plane whose towbar was broken' to be moved. We finally got to leave the plane, and walk through a series of narrow corridor and down several non-functioning escalators to Passport Control. Ok I thought, just a few more minutes and we'll be on our way to Brooklyn - the buzz of a city that never sleeps was bound to make up for the drama of the trip.
As we approached the counters - all 4 of them, a morbidly obese, clearly uneducated and unkempt woman started yelling at the top of her voice for all US citizens to form lines behind three of the four counters that were open. Our long line of non- US citizens began to look at one another in bewilderment - so where are we supposed to go? The thought that they may be rounding us up to send us back to our respectives countries did cross my mind especially when I recalled the process I had to go through to receive 'security clearance' online for coming to the US. Gone are the days of being able to hop on a plane with a European passport and staying in the US for anything up to three months without having to justify one's trip. Fortunately before I started panicking about whether I'd have to go back to work if I was deported or just hang out at home for two weeks pretending to be watching a free concert in Prospect Park, our morbidly obese friend shouted for the aliens to join the line that was already dealing with disabled passengers first. Nice I thought, we're not only not good enough to have more than one immigration officer processing our passports, but we now have to share the one officer with people who we couldn't possibly take our anger out on even if the uncharitable thought had crossed our minds.
Coming from the land of the passive aggressives - English people would rather spontaneously combust with rage than speak out against something that is blatantly wrong...unless ofcourse it involves animals, most of the people in the Non-US citzen queue shuffled along. Instead of questioning this bizarre system some simply rolled their eyes in exasperation while the braver mumbled to their neighbours. According to a couple who said they travelled to the US all the time, New York's JFK was the worse airport you could fly into and although American customers left a lot to be desired, nothing reached the heights of the incompetence and lack of initiative displayed here.
Granted Americans are known for being inward looking and generally unconcerned about what the world thinks of them, especially as for many, there is no world outside of the US borders....well unless you count Canada and Mexico ofcourse. I get that but I don't get that you would display such a poor image of your country by giving people who first enter your country such a disgraceful experience.
As someone who works in PR, I would advise that they do away with the 'warm fuzzy' little video of Americans of all shades and hues saying 'Welcome' in the Passport Control hall and focus on better cutomer service. Americans or rather JFK officials need to acknowledges that sometimes your visitors can be your best advocates and the message that Coca Cola and the countless Hollywood exports fail to deliver may well be done by those of us who visit the country and enjoy their experience. You may even be able to sell the American dream message more effectively this way.