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Avoiding a transit of the United States (wikitravel.org)
190 points by ColinWright 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 180 comments

IMO, the Wikivoyage link is a better one: https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Avoiding_travel_through_the_U...

In general I'd recommend Wikivoyage over Wikitravel - the material seems fresher and it is run by a community rather than a corporation with heavy-handed policies.

For anyone new to the distinction, Internet Brands bought Wikitravel and the community didn't like that, so they forked to Wikivoyage. IB tried suing Wikivoyage for this despite it being allowed under the content license -- either IB didn't do their due diligence on the license of the content they bought, or they thought they could bully the community fork through the cost of fighting it alone. It was eventually thrown out of court, as it should have been.

Wikivoyage is now hosted by Wikimedia, the same nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia.

Just to really emphasize this... Internet Brands literally sued one of the volunteer admins for this[1].

Please use Wikivoyage instead!

[1] Disclosure: As an admin, I may or may not have been one of the "unnamed co-conspirators" in the lawsuit before IB dropped the suit

Thanks for fighting for what's right! I was not involved and was mostly recalling on memory, did I get any details wrong?

I wasn't the one who actually got sued. He had to deal with the mountain of nonsense, not me

Thank you for the context.

That reads like vBulletin vs XenForo to me. Funny.

> recommend Wikivoyage over Wikitravel

Seconded. Wikivoyage was a fork of Wikitrsvel. The history is... interesting: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Brands#Wikitravel_a...

Are there any community guidelines around linking to sources when making claims about what a party might have said? On that very page is the claim:

> US officials have said Canadians may be banned for life from entering the US for legally smoking it, or for working for or investing in the legal companies involved.

Which may very well be true, but cannot be verified without a source.

Just checked the article Talk page and the editor who added it linked to https://www.thestar.com/amp/news/cannabis/2018/09/13/canadia... from there.

This is a sore point for me because I live in Canada but I'm from Mexico. The US happens to be between the two countries I care about the most.

In my head, I've fantasised responding to border agents' questions of "why do you want to come into the US?" with "I don't. You're just in the way."

I assume you'd be in favor of the Mexi-Canadian Overpass, then? https://politics.theonion.com/u-s-protests-mexi-canadian-ove...

You got me with your link.

The moment I could afford to, I started avoiding connecting flights in the United States wherever possible.

The user experience is appalling, from parking lot to gate.

I have visited places that take security very, very seriously (Israel, Russia, China etc.) and all manage to make the entire process more bearable than the United States. I don't really understand why they can't make their airports function.

Because foreigners are not welcome.

Seriously, this isn't hard to understand. The US is an unfriendly, hostile nation. While most Americans, individually, are not unfriendly or hostile to foreigners, the government is decidedly so and has been for decades.

* Unless you have lots of money and plan to spend/invest it in the US

The "and" is critical in that statement.

I mean we did have 3,000 people die from airplanes being hijacked and flown into buildings - the TSA didn't exist before then. Unfortunately our gov't is like an overreacting immune system inflaming the entire body and causing unnecessary damage to functioning systems.

edit: Also Canadians in here, let's not pretend like CBSA's shit doesn't stink

You should try reading the link first. The TSA is not the issue under discussion. It's Customs and Border Patrol that's the issue.

You should try reading the HN guidelines first that say not to accuse someone of not reading the article. Sometimes discussions can meander outside the original article's context.

CBSA uses the exact same security standards as TSA, but manages to make the airport security process much, much faster. I think it comes down to airport design and staffing resources.

It's just Americans being really had at organisation, training, planning especially in government. They also hate government so underfund it so they hire bottom barrell people to be agents.

It's not that foreigners aren't welcome. If that were true, we'd just ban foreigners and refuse to issue visas. It's a lot simpler and possibly more unpleasant to think about than that: we don't care about you. Foreign tourism isn't important to us. You don't pay the bills for all this bureaucracy, and he who pays the piper calls the tunes. You don't call the tunes, US taxpayers do.


I live in Arizona and my experience is not that of an open border. There are packs are rich republicans with guns scouring the border to play tough, defoliation by helicopter, occupied-France style CBP checkpoints, random Chinese citizens being killed in the streets, and a town of laws against foreigners.

That doesn't match up with the facts on illegal immigration figures at the borders. There have been over a million apprehensions by CBP at the borders in the last three years of people who are not in the US legally. Those are just the apprehensions, a huge number beyond that are not caught. The best estimate is that several hundred thousand people are crossing the southern US border illegally per year and not being caught.

More than half of all illegal immigrants overstay Visas (and arrive by airplane). Annual apprehensions at the border are down by like 80% since the mid-2000s - and not for lack of trying.

That screed has so many internal contradictions it made my eyes cross.

Legacy. The US designed air transportation and had an airport in every city before any thought was even given to the concept of transit. The airports are designed to get people to and from the United States, not for people on a hop between other countries.

Yes, this is a competitive disadvantage. I don't think there is a lot of money around to solve this problem. I'm sure if, say, the Port Authority wanted to have a sterile transit area in JFK, they could probably convince the federal government to allow it. But they don't care. Nobody with money cares. Therein lies the problem.

Yeah most of the people commenting in this thread probably come from countries where major airports are used primarily for international transit, and run by for-profit companies that want to maximize transfer passengers.

They have no concept of an airport getting 90 million domestic passengers a year.

And yet of the top ten airports, all of whom do at least 75% of ATL's traffic, 7 are not in the US, and display similar characteristics of international traffic versus domestic.

I'm amused by the notion or implication that other countries are far more capitalistic and profit motivated than the US - when it comes to airports.

In some ways they are, like retail. The British Airports Authority used to be listed on the LSE as a retail stock, because Duty-Free Shopping (an afterthought in most US international airports) was such a big proportion of their revenues.

Oh, I have absolutely no doubt. I mean more that the implication that in the US, profoundly capitalist, at times to a fault, has airports as a bastion of socialized community benefit.

I'm assuming this is Atlanta? Got a source?


> International passengers traveling to, from and through Atlanta in 2017 rose by 4.86 percent to 12,033,865, while cargo operations were up 5.66 percent. Overall, Hartsfield-Jackson hosted 103,902,992 passengers last year...


Wow. I'm surprised that 90% is domestic for the busiest airport in the world, but I'm Canadian.


Same here. In fact, I have actively avoided travelling to the US for the past four years, which means I have mostly missed conferences. I would really like to travel there again, I have friends and favourite places, but the hassle is just too much, even with a passport that makes things easier than average. Sad! :-)

I'm guessing the sheer volume of air travel in the US is one problem.

Example: I travelled to Israel a couple of times for work. Their security is world class, but they take a more predictive approach: having trained people interview all passengers even before checkin and look for subtle body language clues or inconsistencies, as well as your nationality/ethnicity/previous travel to gauge the level of risk.

This is effective but it wouldn't be able to scale for a country as big as the US (300M vs 8M people); these are trained professionals, not folks that get paid a low hourly wage as is the case with the TSA.

Using race as a proxy for suspicion would probably scale just fine, however, there are other reasons it is unlikely to work in the US.

Not the least of which is ethnic profiling is probably Unconstitutional and unlikely to pass judicial review.

Mostly because it's theater instead of security.

Because of political correctness. All the airplane terrorism has been committed by Muslim males under 35, therefore the TSA has to search little old ladies.

So I always wondered - what happens if your flight has to make an emergency landing on US territory and you don't have a visa? Are the passengers held separately until they can board another flight, so they don't have to go through customs in that case?

This reminds me a recent story when Norvegian Airlines plane was forced to land in Iran due to [engine problem][1].

As a result:

  The passengers have now officially entered Iran,
  and no longer are allowed to enter the US under
  the visa waiver program. This means if any of
  them are flying onwards from Oslo to New York
  (which many are) they have to go to a US embassy
  and ask for permission. They might have to do it
  for the rest of their lives.
[1]: https://www.airlive.net/boeing-737-max-8-stuck-in-iran-since...

I can't see a single sane thing about this situation, and none of my senators seem to give a shit. When I call my comments are "noted."

It's a bad idea. It shouldn't be that way.

“You should exercise your right to vote”

“Clearly, since this is the policy, it indicates that this is the will of the American people and a majority support the policy.”

It indicates no such thing.


The sane thing about it is that it keeps the rule system simpler.

So vote for someone else the next time around and tweet @$incumbent (or let them know in some other way) that you just voted for $othercanidate because they do not take your concerns about $subject seriously enough. Basically just be vocal about your issue.

The list of current policies which are wildly unjust or flat-out insane, and for which this strategy would have to be applied, is always much longer than the list of candidates. There are no US elections, ever, in which it is possible to vote for any candidate who would not have to receive a long list of such twitter posts. I don't see how this strategy can work.

In a republic that doesn't work. Citizens have one lever to control policy: vote for or against their representative. We see this all the time with statements like "I don't like X's view on abortion but I think Y's position on climate change is even more damaging so I'm voting for X."

Do you believe this will have an effect?

Probably not in the short term and only if enough people start doing it. I like the idea of making it clear for the people you're voting for and against why you're voting/not voting for them. Hopefully, it'll influence their future platforms.

If you contact your congresscritter over their official congressional channels - email, phone, Twitter, plain ol' letter - and tell them you plan to vote for/against them because of $X, a very polite intern will tell you that they will record your support/opposition to $X but that they cannot pass along your comment on voting to your congresscritter.

Be sure to share that with their campaign: that's how you get that message through.

They can't "pass along your message" specifically but when they get several hundred people saying they didn't vote for $boss because of their stance on $issue they will find a way to let $boss know about the pattern.

I wish there was a follow up for this article. At the end it says

> Special arrangements will have to be made between Iranian and US authorities.

Which makes it sound like they worked something out so that this doesn't effect their travel.

I mean, it happened less than 2 weeks ago - it's possible nothing has been worked out yet.

Yeah. This seems like a back burner issue for everyone except maybe a couple people on the flight who have trips to the US planned already. In any case it's minor enough that a reasonable solution will probably be reached unless there happens to be a geopolitical flare up and this minor issue gets used as a pawn.

Oh wow, I never checked the date. Thank you!

Well, I suppose the simplest solution is that they declare their passports lost or stolen and ask for new ones before getting to the US.

The new passports won't have traces of their entering Iran, and the US will not get their hands on the old passports and never know they were in Iran.

One of the ESTA questions is

> Have you traveled to, or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011?

I wouldn’t recommend answering this or any other CBP question untruthfully.

Don't you have the right to remain silent and not answer?

Sure, if you are American. If you're not, then you will be simply denied entry if you refuse to answer.

It's hard to be silent towards an online checkbox.

Sure, and they have the right to put you on a plane to somewhere else.

Cuban agents used to put the stamp in a separate paper instead of the passport so you don't have trouble if you plan to go to the US later. Not sure if that's needed anymore.

Before legal travel to Cuba from the US you just needed to not use an ATM which apparently would work. They had no problems making sure you would spend money there and accommodated Americans to not get in trouble.

Israel does the same thing.

Ah. That explains a lot. I've gotten these stamps-on-paper before, and never knew why.

You can't lie if an official document asks if you've ever been to Iran though. So this could be an issue if ever applying for a green card/citizenship in US.

"Gosh, I must have slept through the whole thing!"

That didn't really matter. The statements are considered false even if you didn't know them to be false.

>You can't lie

Demonstrably false.

>They might have to do it for the rest of their lives.

They could do this only once every 10 years (after applying for a tourist B2 visa).

A transit C-1 visa is usually only valid for few months though, so this can still screw you over if you transit through US regularly. And no, you can't apply for a B2 visa "just in case"(I mean you can, but I doubt such request would succeed).

From memory, there was a similar incident in China last year; where a flight had an emergency landing and passengers (without a Chinese passport) were kept in the airport terminal overnight, as the airlines didn't organise a temporary visa allowing them to enter the country.

Almost expectedly; food, drinks and bathrooms weren't necessary provided, which is how the incident made the news in the usual "worst flying experience" kind of way.

It happened to me, although it was a long time ago, and things have changed. I was en route going from the UK the long way to Australia. I was scheduled to change places in Los Angeles and we were diverted to Las Vegas. Due to the rules about crew flying times, etc., I had an unscheduled 24 hour stopover. Then instead of direct to Melbourne it was Honolulu, Papeete, Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne.

In our case we got processed, and and assuming nothing flagged up you were given a temporary visa, told not the leave the city, and told to be back by a certain time. Or else.

But times have changed - I don't know what would happen now.

I'm sure the Huawei executive was aware of this and actively avoided transiting through the US. She probably didn't assume Canada would also do the US's bidding.

The charges against her work with Iran had made headlines nearly 5+ yrs before she was arrested, so she must have known there was a risk travelling there.

> I'm sure the Huawei executive was aware of this and actively avoided transiting through the US. She probably didn't assume Canada would also do the US's bidding.

Because everyone in Canada has already forgotten about the hacking and IP theft from Nortel, right?

17 years ago, Hauwei stole my source code and pushed my employer out of a joint venture in Australia. I know that I'll never forget about it. Do you think Canadians have a short memory or are especially forgiving about tens of thousands of people losing savings and pensions?

> I'm sure the Huawei executive was aware of this and actively avoided transiting through the US. She probably didn't assume Canada would also do the US's bidding.

Extradition is a normal process that happens on a regular basis when people commit acts that are crimes in both countries concerned. To describe this as "doing someone's bidding" first requires being unaware of or ignoring that extradition is a reasonably common thing in the world.

If the Canadian government requests the United States government to detain someone, the US would. That's the nature of extradition treaties. Nobody is doing anyone's "bidding".

Sure but don't act like it's just some run-of-the-mill legal process without significant political implications for Canada and their citizens, which are most certainly balanced and considered beforehand. I doubt it's an automatic process merely because a treaty exists.

You're right! It's by no means some run-of-the-mill legal process without significant political implications.

It's a run-of-the-mill legal process that the Chinese government has decided should have significant political implications for Canada and Canadian citizens. It's important to bear in mind that this was a set of decisions deliberately chosen by the government of China in response to Canada obeying its obligations clearly laid out in a readily available treaty.

As you so wisely and correctly note, no legal process is automatic. Yet routine extraditions, even of politically sensitive people, come quite close.

A treaty means it's a matter of law in both countries. It may not be automatic, but if they don't follow the laws they promised to uphold, they risk voiding the treaty.

I think the only way for the U.S. to go back to a sane system for international travelers is for people to stop visiting the U.S. for vacations. We won't change until large businesses like Disney take an economic hit.

Or for other countries to start enforcing these same policies on US travelers.

US citizens don't realize this is a problem because it doesn't affect them, so they don't try to change it.

Get the entire EU to treat us as crappy as we treat them and there will be pressure to change it. I say all of this as a US citizen who travels abroad somewhat regularly.

That won’t help, because it won’t affect most of us anyway. Most Americans don’t even have a passport (there are currently 137 million American passports in circulation), and many of those who do are only using it to drive to Canada or Mexico.

No it won't affect most people but it will affect some; which is a whole lot better than none.

Also, it would disproportionately affect upper class and business travelers who are frankly more likely to get things done. Make it a burden for Bezos and Zuckerburg to travel and they'll raise more than enough stink. Toss in my company getting pissed at how much time I waste on paperwork every time I do an overseas trip and things could move.

you need passport to visit your neighbors? sounds odd from EU

This is like the suggestion to reinstitute a draft to stop militarism. I don't think they're good ideas...they create momentum in the wrong direction. Let's focus on making things better instead. Do no harm.

The Disney theme parks just raised prices again. They aren't lacking visitors.

Hence the call for people to stop coming to the U.S. for tourism. I'm not claiming Disney is hurting now. I'm suggesting that the best way to change the U.S. government's treatment of visitors is for companies like Disney to hurt.

Once air travel in the US ceases to function, at least 30% of the guests will be unable to come to Disneyworld. That's a big hit. For example visiting Disneyworld is the biggest tourist attraction in Brazil and it's in Florida.

It's going to take a lot to accomplish that.

Disneyland is super crowded on a huge fraction of the days of the year. There's just not a shortage of domestic customers.

In the 1950's when Disneyland opened, California's entire population was (very roughly) 11 million people. Today, there are (again, very roughly) 11 million people in Los Angeles County alone.

Since opening, Disneyland has expanded its ability to take in customers by cannibalizing its old parking lot, but there's not much additional, affordable room for expansion today.

And there are precious few fair-weather locations that are also economically and politically suitable for "another Disneyland campus."

It's also worth noting that the Disney Corporation, though large, has about 1/5 the stock market capitalization of Google.

Lots of Americans themselves go to Disneyland. I'm sure there's a degree of international visitors, but I used to live in Orlando, and found a lot of the tourists were from the USA.

International tourists make up a bigger piece of the pie at Disney World, where they typically comprise between 18 percent and 22 percent of total attendance.

Foreign visitors spent an estimated $87.1 billion on U.S. travel and tourism-related goods and services between January and June. That includes spending on hotels, restaurants, entertainment, local transportation and airfares on U.S. airlines, though commerce doesn't break out how much of it was specifically spent on Magic Kingdom tickets or Disney Dining Plans.

International visitor spending in June alone rose 5 percent from a year ago to $14.6 billion.


Been doing this all my life, it hasn't helped.

>> "The United States does not allow sterile transit, which means that even if you have an immediate connecting flight, you have to pass through Customs and Immigration. This is time-consuming and tedious"

The history behind this isn't as simple as politics. Many US airports have evolved without the physical separation between local and international departures areas. So all of the airport is "in" the US. That makes perfect sense given the geography involved. The bulk of US flights are local. Even with Canadian flights it is normal to clear US customs and immigration within Canada prior to boarding the flight to the US. So, rather than politics or protectionism, there simply was no practical need for separate terminals. Starting from that history, it is far easier to screen all passengers as they land rather than retroactively divide an airport into zones.

LAX is notable for having separate local and international terminals, but iirc everyone is still screened on landing.

This isn't all that unusual either. From what I can tell from my travel, this is more of a European thing then anywhere else, as I have not been able to transit without clearing local customs in Tokyo, Shanghai, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Seoul or Bangkok. Call it an accident of geography - most travel in the EU is technically international, because the EU is a loose confederation at best rather than a federal government.

It's actually an artifact of the Schengen region not the EU itself. EU has freedom of movement rules, but Schengen provides for universal visa and lack of border controls. The UK (which is soon to be outside of the EU) has never been part of Schengen, but has and will continue to be part of the Common Travel Area which is the same thing but for UK and Irish Republic.

I've transited Hong Kong, Tokyo (NRT), Singapore, and Seoul (both SEL and ICN) without going through immigration or customs. All of them have a security check. They look at your passport and boarding pass, and x-ray carry-ons. But it's not full immigration.

Shanghai should have a custom free transit section now, at least for the last five years. I’ve transferred in Tokyo (from Beijing to the USA) and Hong Kong (from Beijing to Bali) often without clearing customs, so I’m not really sure what is going on with your situation there.

Hong Kong and Singapore, as examples, are huge transfer airports where many passengers never clear customs.

I was able to transit Seoul (South Korea) without clearing customs. This was in 1984, though, so things may have changed...

They haven't (as of 2018 at least).

A few more recent airports have been built to make this change possible should policy ever shift. IAH was specifically designed to allow future sterile transits without major construction.

Air New Zealand used to do this for their Auckland-London flights at LAX. Now they have some modified thing where you have to go through immigration, but your bags still go through. It's byzantine but better than other US airports. This matches my recollection: http://abroad.theaureview.com/flights/what-its-like-to-trans...

On the other hand, we fly Air NZ to Sydney from LAX via AKL all the time. Transiting through Auckland is pretty easy (just an additional hand-baggage check as you exit the airplane into the sterile int'l zone), and getting better since the airport is finally getting expanded. Beforehand the airport was impossibly cramped.

Both IAH and MIA allow this sort of transit on international-to-international connections, but only if flying United (through IAH) or American (through MIA). Bags don't have to be collected but passengers still have to clear immigration and hold the appropriate visa or authorization.

I did this journey LHR to AKL and back again via LAX in 2005. It was a pretty miserable affair and included being fingerprinted and retina scanned at LAX, both times. The whole experience felt authoritarian and sketchy and a few gears up from the rather pleasant visit I'd had in Boston in 2002 (sans fingerprinting and eyeball scanning despite it being only a year since 9/11).

I doubt I'll ever visit the US again.

It makes sense to see that at IAH. United sees a lot of traffic towards Latin America from there so opening that up makes Europe-to-Latin America itineraries feasible. The same might be true at other hubs in the southern US, say DFW, ATL, MIA. (Although I live in Atlanta and ATL doesn't do a huge amount of international business - it's built on being a connecting point for domestic flights.)

The US used to have a program called “ITI” which was suspended in 2003. I don’t know exactly how it worked logistically. Travelers were supposed to stay in a certain area of the airport. I believe Miami had a separate secure transit area—was the area you are referring to at IAH in use until 2003?

Other airports may have relied on other measures to make sure transit passengers didn’t proceed into the US.

(There was also a related transit without visa program that allowed visa-free transit within the US, using multiple airports.)

I traveled through the US on a connecting flight in 1999 without a visa and it was possible. "Transit without visa" was a thing.

Did you have to stay in a designated transit area of the airport, or were you able to roam about more freely?

(It was too much trouble to try to find the old pre-2003 regulations.)

Designated transit area, of course. Don't know when this stopped being the case though.

Perhaps then atleast the airports & terminals where these segreations are in place should be allowed to do 'sterile transfers', and new constructions out to be designed with that in mind.

Otherwise asking someone to get a US visa for mere transfer in an airport (as I understand getting a transit visa is as difficult as other types of US visa required to actually visit US, involving the same lengthy process, with personal interviews at the US Consulates, which in big countries like China, India, Russia could be located at the other end of their country), often to the same aircraft is very onerous.

At the very least the transit visa should be a made a visa-on-arrival with a small fees. I sincerely wonder why the US want to hassle people who don't want to, don't intend to set foot on US soil, but merely want to change planes in there.

some of your points are fair, but I think you're making excuses. The "Even with Canadian flights it is normal to clear US customs and immigration..." is trying to justify.. something.. but what it's really describing is a policy by which the US is forcing its immigration enforcement on to foreign countries. This is a new thing.

I haven't travelled enough to say; I've noticed the 'sterile' zones in particular in Heathrow but of course they have a vast array of international flights, and their status as a non-Schengen country means virtually every transit will be an international one (in contrast to your fair point about the US being a large country with primarily domestic flights).

On a recent trip to South America, I was reminded of how few countries have sterile zones. I made the mistake of booking through Mexico, thinking it would save time, but not realizing I'd have to clear customs going through the country each way. I also took a number of flights such as Argentina -> Peru -> Chile requiring I clear customs on my connection, as well as going through exit and entrance immigration in each (another contrast to the US, which has no exit immigration at all).

I think I got something like 16 passport stamps in 3 weeks.

The motivation for US preclearance at Canadian airports is not "forcing its immigration enforcement on to foreign countries". It's that there are a handful of major airports in Canada, and loads more in the US, many of which did not have immigration facilities in the 1950s and 60s when preclearance started. Even today LGA and DCA don't have immigration facilities.

I learned something new today; you are correct that Canadian preclearance predates 9/11 hysteria, however it is an expanding program that I believe fits my characterization when applied to other countries.



>> policy by which the US is forcing its immigration enforcement on to foreign countries. This is a new thing.

Speaking as a Canadian who regularly travels into the US, Canadians much prefer to clear US customs while still in Canada. It simplifies things and means that, should something go wrong, you are still in Canada rather than trapped in the US without a visa.

Interesting. Before you said that, I was thinking about it from the US government's perspective.

And I think that it is basically the flip side of your description. I think with such procedures the US is trying to reduce the number of people who are "trapped in the US without a visa" simply because the US government, by law, becomes responsible for managing, tracking, processing, administering, and, yes, potentially initiating removal proceedings for, such persons.

I would extend it to - avoid transfers anywhere in North America (including Canada). US and Canadian airports are pain in the ass regarding customs and immigration. Better to transfer in Europe or Asia and fly directly from there.

Canada is massively better - many routings don't require going through security, leaving only a cursory immigration check (at special transit desks).

Er, really? Usually it's the other way around. i.e. when flying from country A to country C via country B, in country B's airport you just go through a cursory security check but no immigration or customs formalities.

Yes, indeed. US/Europe to -> rest of world (except US) involves no security when transiting Canada.

Domestic connections do require security, connections to US generally require preclearance security. Connections from most other countries also go through security.

The odd thing is that they don't separate arrivals: so you'll mingle with worldwide arrivals, go through transfer immigration with everyone else, and finally you show your boarding pass and get routed either to the departure gates, or to security, based on your boarding pass.

Disclaimer: this might not be the case at all airports, but certainly YVR and YYZ have implemented this.

Mexico too?

I had no idea you had to go through customs in the US simply to transfer international flights. That's INSANE!

I've had connecting flights though Moscow and Doha and didn't need to "enter" those countries or have a visa just to switch planes. Sometimes you go though another security checkpoint, but I've never had to present my passport until I reached the destination country.

Not sure where you're from, but for many countries in the EU, you do have to show your passport, and have a transit visa, if you are from a set of unwelcome countries. Many people I know avoid transits in the EU because they don't want to pay the fees for a transit visa (and because people from other countries don't need to).

Transit visas aren't just an American thing, nor is some kind of customs check - I transited via Moscow to Georgia (from the US) recently and had to pass through some limited form of passport control and a security re-check. No transit visa was required in that case, though.

That's what is called 'sterile transit', and in many countries is still the case (and was broadly the case before 9/11).

As a citizen of a Muslim country this is very useful information, thanks a lot!

I was under the impression that international flights connecting through the US put travellers in what is technically international territory, and doesn't involve any of the difficulty associated with entering the country. Is this no longer the case?

Maybe? All I can say is that last couple of times I transited through LAX, I had to go all the way out through security and passport control - I could have walked out the front doors of the airport - and then all the way back through. It was the same flight number, and the same physical plane that I was getting back on!

I then decided that was too much of a pain, and flew through Dubai instead, which has a vastly superior transit experience!

> I then decided that was too much of a pain, and flew through Dubai instead, which has a vastly superior transit experience!

At least assuming you're not a member of a demographic for whom that's a potentially dangerous location.

What demographic is that? (I plan to visit Dubai next month.)

To name one, trans people. It's my understanding that prescription drugs are carefully controlled in Dubai, and HRT is not permitted, and carrying HRT through Dubai can get you arrested and thrown in jail.

It's not international territory in any way, it's US territory. International airports being ports of entry is a bit of a legal fiction, because it's not feasible to conduct immigration and customs inspection immediately when the airplane enters US airspace. That doesn't mean that it's not US territory in any way.

Aliens (with certain exceptions) need either a US visa or an ESTA to transit through the United States. Technically speaking, the Immigration and Nationality Act permits transiting through the United States without a visa if certain conditions are met, but in practice this is not allowed anymore.

Many airports have an international transit zone, which is inside the legislation of the country, but in a legal fiction travelers haven't immigrated, yet. The only one having to go through border check there are travelers connections to domestic flights (in EU inner-Schengen flights are domestic) or for leaving the airport.

U.S. airports generally don't do that. Even when transferring from a flight between Europe and South America they request you to go through immigration and customs.

No, that's the way most airports work, but not in the US. Even if you are just transferring, you can easily just walk straight out of the airport.

I recently did a transfer in the US, took me 2.5 hours to go through customs. I booked before the govt shutdown, so I hadn't anticipated the delay. Not fun.

Cbp (international arrivals) is not affected by the shutdown (even if they blamed it on that) 2.5 hours for US customs sounds about right sadly

CBP is definitely affected by the shutdown. It’s just that most of them are still required to work anyway, despite not currently being paid.


They are, but that can only go on for so long. TSA employees aren't exactly highly paid, so they can probably only hold out for a little while before finding other work. I'm very interested to see what travel in/through US airports will look like in another week or month with this shutdown.

2.5 hours?

I was on holidays to the US 12 days ago. Clearing customs & immigration in Miami International took less than 15 minutes.

Immigration is - probably everywhere not only the US - a sort of lottery. Depending on your time of arrival (3 other flights coming in at the same time?), your passport (biometric? citizen?) and your travel class (first get's off first, and will either have their own lines or simply outrun you to immigration due to their headstart). And then there are also prioritized programs (global entry etc) you could sign up for prior.

Foreign biometric passport. Travelling on ESTA.

No Global Entry, Economy ticket, so getting off with the rest of the cattle.

But yes, I have never, ever in my life seen a immigration queue that long, and I’ve taken some 50-60 flights in my lifetime.

It can vary hugely with airport and time of day. I've had to wait over 3 hours once in Chicago to get through immigration.

Yes, the line for foreign passports was 2.5 hours at Washington Dulles. 2 CBP agents for a few hundred people.

Last time I was there, US passports lane was slow, foreign was very fast.

Not at all - when flying through Miami on a way to Bolivia in June last year, we had to get a full US visa (which caused us tons of problems due to company issuing them for wrong country, making them invalid).

Maybe it depends on airport design, but in Miami there is nothing stopping you from leaving the airport. In fact, we also experienced various issues with flights, and had to literally get out to check in area and chase airlines to take us (it is a long story, full of drama and missed flights due to external errors/issues).

US is special in this, now we heed the advice of many - don't travel through US in any way, potential troubles are not worth it.

That's never been the case. US airports do not have sterile international zones.

This is called "sterile transit", and as stated on that page the US doesn't do it.

What a deeply saddening state of affairs.

It's always worth at least $100 - 200 dollars to avoid a US transfer. The machine guns, and tv's with propaganda of 'how great the US is' are all creepy as hell. Not to mention being yelled at by border security. Seems to be pretty common (in newark at least)

> The machine guns

Like most airports in the EU? I've seen prominent military style weapons throughout Heathrow, CDG, and Frankfurt.

> tv's with propaganda of 'how great the US is'

Really? Either the TVs are showing TSA notices what not to carry or they are on something like CNN. I guess CNN could be considered US propaganda hah.

> being yelled at by border security

I've never been yelled at by anyone at any border. My only immigration snag has been in Frankfurt when trying to leave the EU. My visa was stamped in Greece, but it had so little ink the German officer could not find the stamp. Then there was quite a bit of discussion with his partner in German that I didn't understand. Finally, I interjected that I entered the EU through Greece and they laughed and waved me through.

I've been in the US for almost a decade now, never entered the country for any reason other than work, where I'm paid a pretty nice salary, have a passport from an otherwise ordinary country and can tell you this:

I have been treated like a criminal almost every single time at the port of entry, being asked the same question multiple times, yelled at for giving more information than was asked, despite being asked that exact information later on in the interrogation, and sent aside for further questioning.

This has been pretty standard in the time I have been here. Only in less than a handful of occasions have I been asked a few reasonable questions and been treated nicely by a CBP officer.

The exact opposite applies to my experience entering, say European countries, while not being an EU citizen. It's always been a pleasure, and taken no longer than a couple of minutes worth of questions, if any questions at all.

So your anecdotal experience is different from mine. It sounds like you're disagreeing with me, but I guess you're not.

This was just my experience. Going through (some) US airports feels like temporarily stepping into the world of starship troopers.

Not disagreeing, but pointing out that the US does not hold a monopoly on military style police in the airport. I've seen this at most large airports I have been to in Europe and Central America.

The machine guns

Funny. The first time I saw machine guns in an airport was in Paris in the 80's and 90's. There were no machine guns in U.S. airports until 2001.

tv's with propaganda of 'how great the US is'

You should try Thailand. Or pretty much every other non-EU country. It's everywhere. And to be honest, I've never noticed it in American airports.

Not to mention being yelled at by border security.

I've been yelled at by plenty of border security agents. Austria, U.K., even Canada. Though the Canadian lady was trying to be funny.

Contrary to stereotypes, the nicest border agent interaction I ever had was in Germany.

I have travelled in and through the U.S. dozens of times (including through Newark) and have never once seen a "machine gun".

Did you fly in the years shortly after 9/11? There were soldiers armed with rifles, which may have automatic firing capabilities, back then. They aren't present now but I wonder if the GP's post is an impression from that period.

I've only seen police openly carrying modern sporting rifles at LaGuardia. There are police and military openly carrying long guns in public in many European countries these days so I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised to see them at an airport.

Not sure what they're called then! Semi-automatics?

A "machine gun" in the legal sense, in the US, is any weapon or device capable of firing multiple rounds per pull of the trigger. They have been illegal to manufacture for civilian use since 1986, although devices made before that time are legal for civilian ownership at the Federal level. It requires payment of a tax to the ATF and a background check (these are called NFA items, and the Gun Owner's of America is currently petitioning the Supreme Court to challenge it).

A semi-automatic weapon can only fire once per trigger pull and then uses the force of the exploding round to load the next round from a magazine. These are extremely common in the US, but you probably did not see them since many are conceal carried or used only at home or at the range.

What you saw at airports were probably "machine guns" used by police and military to guard the airport. A civilian legal "machine gun" can run upwards of $10000 and is likely not something people would carry in public, even if it is likely legal to do so depending on open carry of long guns laws in that locality.

>> What you saw at airports were probably "machine guns" used by police and military to guard the airport. A civilian legal "machine gun" can run upwards of $10000 and is likely not something people would carry in public, even if it is likely legal to do so depending on open carry of long guns laws in that locality.

The OP is probably not American and so most likely took it for granted that this type of weapon would only be carried openly by security forces. As did I.

Now, this type of weapon is not available to civilians in Europe so most Europeans would probably think of anything that looks more "automatic" than a shotgun or a revolver as a "machine gun" owing to the lack of familiarity. As, also, would I. In Greece, where I'm from, it's common to use the word for "automatic" (weapon) to refer to both automatic and semi-automatic weapons, even though army service is mandatory and most men above 18 can probably understand the difference. Everyone else has only seen automatic weapons in movies, where everything, from slings on up, has unlimited ammo and rate of fire anyway.

technically it's a "clip" not a magazine

If you want to get specific, it's probably a magazine in most contexts. But it's really just pedantry: https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2014/3/6/clips-vs-...

you're not entirely wrong. people who aren't gun enthusiasts will call pretty much anything that looks capable of automatic fire a "machine gun".

to someone more familiar with guns, a "machine gun" is a large weapon capable of sustained automatic fire that would be mounted to a fixed emplacement or on a vehicle. a "light machine gun" is a smaller version of this that usually requires more than one person to operate effectively. I can pretty much guarantee you did not see either of these things in a US airport. at the height of post 9/11 tensions I recall seeing security personnel with rifles and submachine guns (small automatic weapons that fire pistol ammunition) at airports, but this is fairly uncommon today.

I'm not sure I've ever seen machine guns in public in the US.

I've seen them plenty in France, Germany, and other European nations.

That said, I generally recommend avoiding transits in places that have restrictive policies or excessive landing fees.

I've spotted heavily armed cops in fatigues around JFK and NY Penn Station. More often Penn Station. Did not care to stare too hard at their guns so I have no idea what they were, but large assault-styled things slung on their chests.

I lived in the DC area during 9/11 and remember being supremely creeped out to see heavy guns on the DC metro around that time - as bad as 9/11 was I was still jolted by that...

But then had a similar reaction at a French airport.

The only place I recall seeing machine guns in public in the US was in the airport (just like any major European airport to be fair)

I'm from the US and have been through a lot of US airports, and I've also been through a bunch in Europe and also Sao Paulo, Brazil. I don't ever recall seeing more than a handgun in the US, but in France and Germany they had automatic weapons and in Brazil I'm pretty sure they were full on machine guns.

Even as an American I find the US propaganda when you enter a little creepy. But I also found it odd that when I got to France I couldn't take a picture to celebrate because I couldn't find a single "Welcome to France" thing anywhere in the airport!

Sadly, there are heavily armed security forces in all major transit stations in Europe, these days, and I say "transit stations" because I mean to include train stations and ports. For instance, I've seen heavily armed guards in army fatigues in the train station in Brussels and in Paris and heavily armed border guards in the ports connecting France to the UK, but only on the French side I think.

I guess we're just as paranoid about terrorism in the EU, as anywhere.

I agree about the US border security guys being assholes but I have seen more weapons last year when I travelled to Great Britain, Netherlands and Germany. Especially Amsterdam airport was full of guys with big guns.

Machine guns have been illegal to manufacture for civilian use since 1986.

I'm going to assume (DANGER DANGER DANGER!) that OP meant that the customs/security/border officials may have had them? Assuming this was a genuine post, that would make sense, as there are definitely armed security personnel at major airports (Source: I'm an American, and I've seen this).

Best case, OP is trying to say he doesn't find that sort of security presence comforting/enjoyable, which is a perfectly cromulent opinion.

Reading elsewhere, OP isn't aware of what the word "machine gun" means so it's hard to glean what they were referring to: police/military presence at airports or civilian gun ownership.

Yes, I was talking about the guards.

I can see the US perspective with concerns after 2001. It is hard to have to be scritinized, but it is a new reality.

Nothing wrong if you are a foreigner avoiding it. I don't think the anti US crowd is productive here, because they still will have to keep the measures in place.

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