Travel advice

More chaos and confusion at U.S. customs and immigration

U.S. and British passprots

ABOVE: Will a valid passport get you into the United States.? Maybe--or maybe not.

by Durant Imboden

In early October, we flew from Paris to the United States, arriving at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP). We expected the usual long lines at Customs and Immigration, but on this occasion, the chaos and confusion were even worse than usual: Officers of CBP (Customs and Border Protection) were shouting at travelers, warning that they'd need to show both a "secondary photo ID" and boarding passes along with their passports.

When we finally got to the head of the line, we asked the CBP officer if this was a new requirement. He answered "yes," and he explained that the new procedure stemmed from the fact that "our enemies" had learned to copy U.S. passports, which were "the most easily-forged passports in the world."

The officer then made a show of holding up our passports and secondary IDs and comparing them, even though he'd already expressed his contempt for drivers' licenses, which anyone could buy "on the street."

We managed to get through immigration, and after we got home, I scoured the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site in search of information on the new "secondary photo ID" policy. When I couldn't find anything, I e-mailed the CBP's press department. Today, I got the following reply from a press officer named Cherise M. Miles:

"There are no new requirements or changes to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectional procedures. During arrival processing, CBP officers may request additional forms of identification for verification purposes."

So what's the explanation? Did a rogue CBP supervisor at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport decide, without consulting higher-ups, that requiring a secondary (and unreliable) photo ID and boarding pass would help to keep "our enemies" out of the country? CBP isn't saying. Still, if you're traveling to the United States from overseas, it might be a good idea to bring along a secondary photo ID and keep your boarding pass handy when you're arriving at a U.S. international air gateway. And be sure to allow plenty of time for connections: We had to stand in two long, slow-moving lines at MSP on October 1--the first to get through immigration, and the second to hand in our customs forms as we left the immigration and customs area.

Vacation renter trashes apartment

The Hole at Alcatraz - Photo by Stephan Hoerold

ABOVE: A more appropriate San Francisco vacation apartment for "DJ Pattrson."

We learned about this incident via a Facebook Travel Bloggers Group post by Michela Simonici:

In Around the World and Back Again, a blogger who goes by the initials "EJ" describes renting her San Francisco apartment to a stranger through airbnb and coming home to find it robbed and trashed:

Violated: A traveler's lost faith; a difficult lesson learned 

Fortunately, such horror stories aren't common. If they were, the vacation-rental business wouldn't be as huge as it is. But if you're ever asked for references when renting a holiday apartment, or if the proprietor demands a hefty security deposit or a credit-card number, EJ's experience may help to explain why the landlord or landlady is being careful.

Photo: Stephan Hoerold.

Special Needs at Sea

Wheelchair in Venice, Italy
ABOVE:  A wheelchair in Venice, Italy. 

We recently learned about a company that offers a variety of useful services for disabled or chronically ill cruise passengers and travelers.

The company, Special Needs at Sea, is a "one-stop source" of wheelchairs, mobility scooters, wakers, oxygen rentals, hearing-impaired kits, and other items in more than 55 cities and ports around the world.

Special Needs at Sea works with a number of major cruise lines (including Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Cunard, Holland America Line, Oceania, Princess, Royal Caribbean International, and Regent), but it also delivers equipment to hotels, resorts, conference centers, and theme parks.

For more information about Special Needs at Sea and its services, visit the company's Web site at