Olympic Committee Member to Chicago bid team: US Customs is "harrowing experience"

Chicago may have lost its Olympic bid due to the insane fingerprints-and-photos regime at the US border: the Chicago bid team was questioned by an IOC member who called the US border "a rather harrowing experience." I've actually found the O'Hare border procedure pretty painless, but God help the foreigner who lands in Texas. At DFW, I was told by a border guard that I wasn't allowed to listen to headphones in the (two-hour-long) line; at Houston, we once stood in line for three hours just to change planes between Honduras and the UK.
Among the toughest questions posed to the Chicago bid team this week in Copenhagen was one that raised the issue of what kind of welcome foreigners would get from airport officials when they arrived in this country to attend the Games. Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, in the question-and-answer session following Chicago's official presentation, pointed out that entering the United States can be "a rather harrowing experience..."

"It's clear the United States still has a lot of work to do to restore its place as a premier travel destination," Roger Dow, U.S. Travel's president, said in the statement released today. "When IOC members are commenting to our President that foreign visitors find traveling to the United States a 'pretty harrowing experience,' we need to take seriously the challenge of reforming our entry process to ensure there is a welcome mat to our friends around the world, even as we ensure a secure system."

Chicago's Loss: Is Passport Control to Blame?


  1. Fine, we’ll just host our own International Pariah Games. Who needs a relationship with the rest of the planet?

  2. Just about everyone I know thinks twice about booking tickets through the US – unlike most other large transit hubs you have to pass though immigration to sit in a transit lounge (international departure lounge) – for example you can walk in and out of the international gates at SFO – just about anywhere else there would be a line of INS desks between you and freedom

    Part of the problem is that the US only processes people in to the country and not out

    The result is that cranky people who’ve just gotten off 12 hour flights are required to sit in the line for an hour or so to speak to the cranky INS agents – if they did transit right the lines for people who really need INS attention would be shorter because the transit people would just run the metal detectors and go upstairs

  3. I’m going on a round the world trip next year. Wanting to visit South America and Canada, and spent several hours puzzling out flights that would allow me to completely skip the USA, precisely because of US border procedures. (In the end I’m going to be flying LAN to Mexico, and then Japan Airlines straight to Vancouver.)

  4. US immigration is indeed a bitch. They took my fingerprints and photos even though those were stored in my RFID passport. They also questioned me like a criminal plus they are really anal about forms to be filled out.
    New Zealand and Australia are nazis when it comes to bringing food or plants in, but they have friendly staff, they have enough staff and they tell you exactly what forms you need and what you need to declare.

    The best part about US immigration was that I was almost denied boarding of my flight in Peru (to Colombia and then on to Miami with a different airline) because I could not provide my ESTA application number.

    To sum it up: US immigration is worse than even what the border guards of the German Democratic Republic were.

  5. As an American, I hope that the US really starts feeling some consequences for the over-reaching nonsense spawned in the Bush II years, while we still have the chance to fix it (i.e. before the country fires Obama for being stymied by the political machine–another Carter in the works, I think).

    I live outside of the US, but even I avoid it. It’s awful.

  6. I must say that I am not surprised. USA from an european perspective has transformed into something scary.

    I am a 30 years old italian guy – never been to US, yet. In the last 10 years I often thought of spending a couple of weeks in NYC, but then I realized that I would have been treated like a potential terrorist.

    I read scary stories about what they can potentially do to you and your personal stuff (seize my laptop, go through my personal pictures…). Fingerprints, ten pages questionnaire to fill before landing?

    Are you sure that people still want to come visit you with this nice welcome? I decided not. I’ll just keep watching movies about USA.

  7. I can only echo Cory’s comments about Houston immigration. As a Brit working in the US I re-entered the country that way on the way back from a holiday in Argentina. I had 3 hours to make my connection and I needed all of if. After standing in a ridiculously long queue for nigh on 2 hours (putting a sensible amount of staff on the desks to deal with the ridiculous immigration procedures is clearly beyond Houston airport) repeatedly listening to to frankly insulting ‘welcome to America’ video I was then faced with the most miserable and unfriendly immigration officer it has ever been my misfortune to meet. I will never come on that way again.

  8. It makes sense. Besides the border issue, it’s almost impossible to get a tourist visa to the United States from here. I am Brazilian, and I have friends who don’t even have a permit to visit the U.S., even if they have university education and stable jobs here. Since September 11 it seems that tourists are not welcome to U.S.
    On the other hand, you all are very welcome here! Come to the Olympics in Rio, or to the World Cup in 2014! Or come to the carnival every year! Be welcome and have fun!!! :)

    (Just take care with your pockets, cameras and bags… we have a lot to do too)

  9. Grendel, an awesome Harsh EBM/Industrial band from the Netherlands, just had to “postpone” (IPA: /kænsÉ™lÌ©/) their US tour due to the fine print attached to the Entertainer’s visa.


    tl;dr: Immigration wants 2 europeans to come over as a “band”, but the band only consists of one european at this point, so they won’t grant the proper visa.

    Think of all the audio engineers, lighting specialists, promoters, and bartenders that are going to go hungry because of this!

  10. I should add – I come thru US immigration for business 2-3 times a year – usually on a US Visit visa – the lines suck everywhere, especially if a couple of big planes come in about the same time, someone’s obviously not hiring enough people to work in the little desks – as I mentioned above there’s no reason why transit passengers need to go through this process.

    Because there’s no exit procedure (you don’t get a stamp in your passport to prove you left) they depend on the airlines to do the right thing – if they don’t the INS assumes you are overstaying your visa – the horror stories I’ve heard from people who unknowingly tried to reenter the US after this has happened are pretty grim (if they staple one of those green cards in your passport make sure someone takes it from you before you leave!)

  11. Makes sense to me.

    I’m still not sure why President Obama wasted so much time lobbying for something we weren’t going to get.

    Maybe if it were in some other American city , but Chicago? Come on, ain’t gonna happen. The ridiculousness of our airport security is just icing on the bittersweet cake of rejection.

    Honestly speaking, I cannot believe that I am still being asked to take my goddamn shoes off every time I want to go on an airplane, but I am able to board mass transit trains without anyone checking me for explosives at all.

  12. My family and I continue to travel to the US, but we cross the border by car from Canada rather then fly. And quite frankly, our friends with darker completions have stopped traveling south all together, even for business trips, as it’s not worth the hassle they get.

  13. One more “me, too”: I’m a Canadian who was headed home from a trip to Europe, changing planes in Detroit, and my sojourn there was easily the worst part of my whole trip.

    Ours was the only plane disembarking at that time of night, lots of people had connections to make, and the understaffed and chaotic passport control and customs desks nearly made us miss our flight — we and our stuff spent more time waiting to be approved to pass through the United States than we did actually passing through.

    This was a basic KLM flight from Amsterdam; this must happen all the damn time. Even on Dutch soil, we needed a separate security screening to get on a U.S.-bound plane, even though we’d arrived there by air already. It looked like Schiphol airport had a whole gate in international departures redesigned exactly for this oddity.

    (That was when we understood why our travel agent had made such a point of offering us itineraries that didn’t involve stops in the U.S. Next time, we’ll take her up on it.)

    For what it’s worth, my experience with land crossings has been nothing but positive. But by air? Yuck.

  14. I didn’t have any trouble when I visited the states. Some of the procedures confused me a bit and the line was pretty long but other than that it was OK. The guard was nice and everything. I even think I filled out the green document (whatever it’s called) wrong, but apparently it wasn’t a big deal. So my experience with US costumes is actually OK, but I can certainly see that it can be a pain in the ass.

  15. What a shame, Chicago had one of the best bids in along time and the decisions comes down to some BS policies at the borders and airports.
    Maybe in 2020….

  16. (i.e. before the country fires Obama for being stymied by the political machine

    You guys OWN the political machine…don’t try to blame this on anyone else.

  17. I’ve entered the US twice over the past few years, and have never had to wait for more than about 15 minutes (which is less than returning at Heathrow), and the staff have been friendly and polite. Mind you, on both occasions, I entered at SFO, so your mileage may vary.

  18. US Customs? Hah-fucking-hah. Any experience with the TSA, internal or external has a chance to be harrowing.

    If people want, I can re-tell my story how a TSA agent was so intimidated by a look (as in, being looked at with eyeballs), that I was was threatened with many things including being interrogated for hours so as to miss my flight.

    I’ve met nice TSA people, but no fucking joke, there are some piece of shit ones that have made me do everything that I can to avoid flying.

  19. i was flying from the UK back to New Zealand, and had a stop over in LA for refuelling – Never again! Unless I actually go to the States, I’m not flying through them. By the time we were processed, the plane was fully refuelled. There seemed to be enough people, they were friendly enough, but…. I did wonder why we had to get out in the first place, and wouldn’t it be easier just to shuffle people off into somesort of holding room, rather than fingerprinting people who are just flying through?
    I’m going to France next year, and would love to go to NYC, but maybe I’ll go the other way back, over Asia and stop over somewhere there instead. Sigh.

  20. I’m a US citizen and a Chicagoan. Cory’s right, compared to NY or anywhere in Texas, O’Hare airport is relatively low stress. The weirdest airport experiences I’ve had are in smaller markets like St. Louis or Salt Lake City.

    I was picked for special extra-crispy hassle search and seizure in Kansas City because I didn’t have a carry-on. Seriously. I’d gone for a librarian conference and had ended up with a ton of swag and was tired of hauling bags everywhere. So for the flight home I just had a book with me and checked my bags. This apparently was some kind of “red flag” and ended up nearly missing my flight due to all the time wasted sitting in a room while some TSA dope stared at me as if, at any second, I was going to turn into the wolfman.

    I’m a pasty young Irish kid. I can’t imagine how anyone from a “suspicious” background would get treated. Perhaps a decon squad and bomb-disabling robot?

    I feel safer!

  21. @ #1 Antinous: We already do. They’re called the Superbowl and the “World” Series.

    I live in the U.S. and loathe having to use the airlines. I find the airports of other countries to be a blessing compared to those in the states.

  22. @mgfarrelly – pasty young Irish kid? A few years ago in the UK you would count as being from a suspicious background…

  23. I’m still not sure why President Obama wasted so much time lobbying for something we weren’t going to get.


  24. Drudge’s ‘The Ego Has Landed’ was pretty funny, though. Regardless, a ‘secure welcome mat’ is what we have now – America-style – meaning more about secure than welcome. T-S-A…T-S-A

  25. As an American, allow me to apologise to all the people who have had bad experiences with our TSA; I might not have the authority to make it official or to do anything about it, but those experiences ought not have occurred.

  26. I once arrived at Denver, Colorado for business and had to present the absurd form where you state you don’t want to kill the president. I usually sign stuff in front of the person receiving it, just so they’ll be sure that it was me who signed it. I didn’t have a pen (I don’t carry one when going to the US, in case that one of those crazy controls think it’s a weapon and arrest me) and the migrations officer wouldn’t lend me hers, stating that I must provide my own. I was almost denied entrance because of that. I ended up signing with a highlighter I had (by mistake). I don’t even know if that’s legal. I avoid the US whenever I can.

  27. Harrowing to say the least. In 2002 I had the worst travel experience of my life on, what should have been, a simple stopover in Houston. Since then I always make sure that I have either a direct flight or that I plan international routes to completely bypass the states. Unless of course I’m travelling to the US itself… then my above logic would be quite difficult in finding a place to land ;).

  28. Yup. I’m an American, back in July I went on a brief European vacation with a stopover in Vancouver (YVR). The worst part about the travel was dealing with American customs. Horrible (and I was never once targeted for extra scrutiny).

    The Americans were the only ones (both at SFO and YVR) to require me to take off my shoes. When I instinctively took off my shoes in Germany at one point, and the security guy looked at me like I sprouted another head. Getting back into the US via YVR was a time consuming process. While the one guy put a sticker on some of my paperwork so that I’d go through the expedited line… the expedited line was moving really, really slowly because there was an old woman in a wheelchair who had set off the metal detector, so they had to probe her every orifice.

  29. You mean the USA wanted to have a World championship where they actually invited other countries?

    Airport security does next to nothing to keep people safe anyways. It’s just to make people FEEL safer, and they don’t even do a good job at that. I’m sure the world is a much safer place by making my twin 6 year olds take their shoes off and have to get their own passport just to go to Walt Disney World.

    Maybe one day Canada will stop getting the winter games as a consolation prize for Toronto losing out once again for the Summer games.

  30. I’ve lived in the US on and off for years, since I was a child, but only got my green card a year and a half ago. Since then I’ve flown abroad and back to the States twice, and it’s amazing how much of a difference being a permanent resident is. Before, I was always meant to feel like I was doing something wrong. Now agents actually smile at me. Incredible.

    But then they had to go and implement this new fingerprinting procedure. The afterglow is gone.

  31. Customs is awful even if you’re at US citizen. I remember in New York looking EVERYWHERE for a pen, and none of the customs agents would give me one. They didn’t even have pens out on the damn counters right next to the papers~!
    There were only two booths open and everyone just sat there snapping at anyone who tried to move out of the queue.

    Compared with Tokyo/Osaka: guards were friendly and always love to stop and chat with me.

    The US doesn’t need to wipe my ass in customs, but they could at least treat me a little less like I’m smuggling 80 pounds of weed into the country.
    I assume that many of those people have never done customs and don’t know how much they can make a person’s life miserable.

  32. You mean the USA wanted to have a World championship where they actually invited other countries?

    You know, we did start the World Baseball Classic and hosted it twice.

  33. I am absolutely loving the fact that the USA lost the Olympic bid due to their neo-nazi border guards!

  34. Airport security? ha! wish I was THAT lucky!! I have a PhD, a job at a university (in Mexico) where I’ve lectured for the past 11 years, own a house and was invited past year to Texas University to give a lecture on Mexican Literature. I was denied the VISA (even though I had the invitation letter from the Literature Department with me) on the grounds of “not being married, ma’am, which is something serious in the U.S.” I left the embassy mad and humilliated, and with a good 100 dollars LESS in my pocket, because yes, I had to pay to hear that. And that happened the same week a Rep. politician, married, of course, was caught in an airport trying to hook up with a male undercover agent. So I can’t say I am glad Chicago lost the bid, but I sincerely hope the administration will make sure their employees around the world, and in the airports, will start treating people with dignity and respect.

  35. The question I have is, simply, what and how the TSA employees are trained. If they are being basically handed a uniform, a flowchart, and dire threats against deviating from same, well, that would explain most of the horror stories.

  36. Canadian Citizen, British Columbia resident, leaving ORD. TSA representative, “ID and boarding pass please” I hand over a Canadian drivers license issued in BC and my boarding pass. TSA agent looks over the id and reaches under his counter for a “ID by country” book and proceeds to look up the country “British Columbia.” Hummm, can’t find that country, “sir please step aside” No problem, TSA calls over superior, new guy looks at me, looks at ID, waves me through. Total 10 minutes about 5 min with about 30 people behind me wondering if this caucasion is a threat.
    Minimum job requirement; Geography 8, please…
    Bring back the two person national guard teams, packing while walking their “pet” german shepard, I felt much safer and it provides employement to those that qualify.

  37. I’m a US citizen, but I will tell you that I rarely feel that way coming into the airport. Then again I’m a swarthy young male, have a funny name, and always seem to be concluding trips from countries where they hate freedom. I get to enjoy the comfort and hospitality of the Melanin Room most times I enter the US. I also live in a city with a major hub (Atlanta) that makes trying other points of entry a bit pointless (it would probably just look suspicious anyway)

    Some TSA agents are okay dudes, but that doesn’t make up for the pain that is travel to, from, and through the US. Look, no amount of security is ever going to be enough. We will never be completely safe from any kind of attack no matter what. You want to prevent another 9/11? Lock the cockpit doors. You want to prevent some wholly novel method of attack that no one has thought to safeguard against? Then learn to predict the damn future. As for keeping terrorists from ever entering the country? Also impossible. Get over it.

    Of course, we could also just listen to Ann Coulter and ban Arabs from flying. Hey, sometimes I wish I had an excuse not to see my relatives.

  38. I’ve travelled to the US twice this year, once through SF and once through LA. Thankfully I had no problems, and never had to wait for long in line.

    In NZ, when people I know have to fly in the world, they will do anything to avoid stopping over, or transiting in the US. A lot of them go via Singapore now.

    NZ is part of the visa waiver program with the US, so I just need to do the stupid ESTA bollocks on the internet.

    It’s always a good laugh flying back to NZ and seeing Americans take their shoes off to be x-rayed. We don’t do that here. Hell, we don’t do the fluid restrictions on domestic flights, and some have no security screening at all!

  39. @Apoxia I have to say that after travelling twice to and from NZ via Frankfurt/Singapore/Sydney, I found the NZ and AU customs to be quite thorough, though quite friendly. And I find the eco quarantine thing to be quite sensible.

    However, I always marvel at the fact that upon returning I just present my passport to immigration, get a nod and walk past an empty customs counter and am back in the Union.

  40. I travel to the US two or three times a year, on the visa waiver scheme.

    Yes, US immigration is hellish (and the UK is indeed trying to copy its worst aspects) — but there are ways to mitigate it.

    Notably, the attitude of the immigration staff depends on (a) their local culture and (b) the management. Entering at Portland or Seattle is almost pleasant; Boston is brusque (but they’ve gotten a lot more polite over the past ten years), New York is unpleasant, and I’m not entering via an airport in the South ever again.

    The best airport for clearing US immigration is, however, Dublin.


    Yup. The INS has a reciprocal arrangement with the Irish government that mirrors their arrangement with Canada; passengers clear Immigration at Dublin or Shannon before they board their flight, and by-pass it once they arrive in the USA (go straight to baggage claim, pass Customs, and that’s it). And the INS staff live in Ireland and have, to some extent, gone native — they’re polite and friendly. Also? If you land in the USA and the INS don’t like your face, they can haul you off to prison in manacles before deporting you. But if they decide they don’t like you on Irish soil, all they can do is deny you permission to board your flight, leaving you free to go into Dublin and drown your sorrows in the Porterhouse.

  41. @Peterbruells

    Aus and NZ are very strict on customs – especially NZ. But at least you know it is for a good reason. NZ has so few of the common fruit and animal diseases that much of the rest of the world has. And we’d like to keep it that way being an agricultural country.

    At least the strict guidelines make more sense than removing your shoes to check for bombs.

  42. I know three international rewnown professors in my field that will never fly to the USA again – two of them had to hand over a hard drive and a pda with data they never saw again, and one had a hard time spending some hours at the border the last two visits explaining in detail why he stayed at a conference in an arabic country years ago…

    funny thing, the first two are known to hold lots of patents… the thrid one doesn’t and never had to hand over hard drives or anything…

  43. A low stress option for travel to the US is to use a departure airport where CBP? clearance is processed before departure or a low volume arrival gateway. I’ve flown out of Dublin, Ireland, a number of times where pre-departure clearance is processed and, with hand baggage, on arrival breezed through customs in minutes. Arriving in LAX last year, there was polite sign ushering Aer Lingus passengers past the enormous lines of, mainly, trans-Pacific arrivals who must have been facing 90 minutes before see the CBP man. A recent Newark-Liberty arrival from Belfast was also easy, simply because of the low volume of arrivals at that time of day.

    The US is, most definitely, a paradox. On one hand there’s such great imagination and innovation but on the other there’s stymied bureaucracy, blinkered vision and unwarranted arrogance. Perhaps the great American Dream fuels once side of the paradox and then begets the latter as a defence against losing what its got.

    The US can no longer afford to turn away from the world and revert inward when it doesn’t care for everyone else’s game. India, China and Europe, with a South American block catching up, all have large resources of “intellectual capital” and a wealth of innovation, imagination and capability.

    Whoops, that turned into a bit of a thinker….

    Rgds all, Don

  44. I hope this isn’t used as an excuse to deny the USA’s bid to host the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup.

    If Obama wants to make himself useful, he can do something about the crazy, useless harassment we have to go through in airports (internal and external flights both). That’s one “Bush era legacy” that most Americans would support getting rid of.

  45. Cory,

    Sorry you had a bad experience in Texas but it seems like an overreaching statement to say “God help the foreigner who lands in Texas.” Have you ever cleared customs in San Antonio? I have had nothing but fast and pleasant experiences there. My experience in DFW was actually quite nice. I recognize that anecdotes are not data and that my experiences (positive or negative) may not represent the experiences of the masses.

    Rude people exist in every state and indicting Texas customs on your experiences at some of them seems narrow minded.

  46. I prefer to enter the USA via Canada because American customs is in the Canadian airports (YVR, YYC, YYZ). I’m a US citizen but I am absolutely not interested in the power dynamic bullshit from US customs agents. I’ve been threatened with The Glove and I’m not interested in having to bend over for customs. Literally or figuratively. No thanks.

    If you have a conflict with the US Customs agent in one of those Canadian airports, you can just walk unless you’ve broken a Canadian law.

    It’s inconvenient and may cost you your flight but it’s probably the safest bet.

    Just make sure that they don’t try to keep your passport or you’re in some serious trouble. Technically, they cannot deny a US citizen entry because they lack a passport but they sure won’t make it easy. I pity the person who has previously pissed off some customs agent and tries to enter without a passport. :-(

  47. Adding up to the list…

    I have been in the US before 9/11, and since then I’ve avoided visiting again, and taking flights that lands or stop in the US.

    As an example two years ago we were in Mexico, and one of my friends had is passport stolen.

    He contacted the Italian embassy and had a
    temporary ID issued.
    He could come back with us, because we were flying through Spain.
    God forbids we had chosen a flight transiting through US, nothing but a real passport would have done, and he should have remained in Mexico a lot longer. (I admit this may not sound bad, actually)

    I’m also wondering, now the US lost this great business opportunity (to tell the truth i think that Rio would have won anyway, these are the first games in south america!) but has anyone quantified the loss to tourism of all this security procedures? (if any).
    I once heard that the US were the first tourism destination worldwide.
    That’s quite a lot of money, and while US citizens may not be really aware of it, i keep asking myself if this had any consequence in the actual econocalypse.

  48. @ Tas121790 – Actually, the decision probably had more to do with the fact that the Olympics haven’t been held in Latin America since 1968. It was their turn.

  49. Considering that this one country spends $700 billion each year on its military (but can’t afford $100 billion for universal health care), which is more than the top 10 *combined* (that includes China and Russia). You should really think that they think of themselves as a safe country …

    But obviously it’s just ordinary case of paranoia.

  50. I am so happy that finally the completely crazy US customs procedure has some hurtful consequence for the US. As of Pres Obama, he promised to open the US to the world. Well, Mr. president, do your homework fist! The world will not like the US more just because its president stated some intention to improve US relations with the world. It takes time and commitment to reverse all the disastrous decisions and policies that the previous administration has implemented. We want to *see* change happening.

  51. In 1997 my then girlfriend and I decided to spend a month in Europe visiting friends and seeing the sights. I had friends in New York at the time so we tacked a week in the States on at the end.

    We both had to get visas. Mine (for an Australian passport) was issued okay. My partner was on a Malaysian passport and her visa was refused. They wanted her to give evidence of assets in Australia. She didn’t own a house at that stage and I had crashed her car the week before. Permanent employment? Sorry she was a doctor doing contract work.

    So we had to meet with this immigration guy at the US consulate. He conducted the interview from behind thick anti-ballistic glass. This person seemed to have been trained to wind people up, to trick them into blowing up and giving stuff away. All I can say is that you don’t want to pick a verbal stoush with a Malaysian girl. Somehow we got the visa.

    I think I will go to the US once again, to see the Smithsonian. That will be enough for me.

  52. This reminds me of the flights from Europe to Tokyo that made a stop over in Moscow duirng the 90s. It sucked so much that I stopped using flights with stop over in Russia…

    What travellers really hate is being harassed by police and secutiry staff of a country they are not going to visit.

    Actually an annoying stophover is the worst “tourism promotion” that any country could get since ppl after the experiene will think twice to spend holidays in that country in the future…

  53. @ #42 REVERENDDRJICE: I frequent the airports of Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas/Fort Worth; and it’s always a hassle and a headache in every way, shape, and form. I feel Cory was right in saying, “God help the foreigner who lands in Texas.”

  54. generally US immigration officers I’ve encountered seemed bored. But around 1/10 of them seemed convinced that the main reason foreign citizens want to enter the US is to live there, because it is, of course, the best country in the world.

    I know other Canadians who’ve had the same attitude, despite the general lack of Canadian illegals in the US.

  55. After reading the article, and the comments that followed, I say No wonder Chicago lost in the first round… WE’RE THE NEW EAST GERMANY!!! (Check Point Houston).


    I wanted Rio to get the games anyway… much more fun place for them than Chicago… Plus, both the U.S. and Spain have hosted in the last 20 years… and NO country in South America has EVER hosted!

    All this talk about Obama loosing so much face is such BS!! Most of the country wouldnt have noticed if those “news” talking heads hadn’t hyped it soooooo much!

    THAT’S IT!!!!

    I’m moving to Costa Rica, and NEVER coming back!!!!!!!!!!!

    P.S. did anyone even know that New York was in the running when London won the bid for2012???

  56. It’s rather telling that none of the major American network news agencies (hell, even NPR, strangely enough) are talking about the reason behind the IOC decision, but the blogosphere is blowing up about it. Do the networks hope that if they don’t mention it, the majority of of Americans won’t find out? Do they consider it nationally embarassing? It’s a pretty essential part of the story. Leaving it out unbalances the story and isn’t telling the whole truth.

    Piling on, traveling internationally for my job for more than ten years, I’ve never had what I’d call a positive experience clearing customs back into the US. Most have been neutral, but a couple have been real humdingers of powermad desk-jockey protectors of the republic. The ethnographic I represent? I’m a six-foot tall Irish-American guy with short hair, glasses and a desk job paunch, travelling in business casual, carrying a laptop, with lots and lots and lots of stamps in my passport, almost all from Heathrow, Narita, and my port of entry and egress, Seattle. Like I said, mostly neutral experiences, but never a smile and “welcome home” or whatever. Nothing better than a grim grunt and “go on thru.”

    (Please keep the focus on the Texan ports of entry, and let’s have no comments about how awful both the domestic and international travel experience is at SeaTac. We know. Trust me, we know.)

  57. “I am absolutely loving the fact that the USA lost the Olympic bid due to their neo-nazi border guards! ”

    Warren Olney has a segment on the Olympic bid with several illuminating guests this week on his show To the Point. It’s worth pointing out that there were more acute impediments to Chicago’s winning than the abysmal state of US air travel and immigration.

    The US Olympic Commission renegotiated (highly lucrative) tv contracts without involving the IOC, for instance. Relations between the two organizations were already antagonistic, and that just escalated the feud.

  58. I live in a town on the US/Canadian border, and its always been a breeze to walk over, well, most of the time. Even now that they’ve implemented that Enhanced License / Passport money scheme I still made it over without either one with only a mere suggestion that I should get one.

    But, of course, the only reason I was able to do this was because I’m white. Had I been someone of a darker colour, had a funny name or some distant connection to another country there would have been hell to pay.

    Border patrol is nightmarish. It only takes a little bit to set them off. I recall one instance where my friend was driving back from Canada. They had him pull over at US customs, interrogated him, told him “we know you have it, and we’re going to find it so you better just tell us where it is.” Pulled up his shirt, ripped him out of the car, put some portable lie detector test up to his head (which surprisingly was “on the line” and the officer “couldn’t tell”), ripped out his back seat and all of this with no reason and no provocation. Then haphazardly threw his back seat back in his car and let him go.

  59. Really? It was bad immigration policies that had the Olympics denied? mmmmm…really?

    I wonder if any of you know who was or were behind the local demonstrations against the games? Why did that even happen? Was it for a good cause? Was it politics?

    Im not really well informed in that topic. But I think the real answer to why the games were cancelled might comr from there.

  60. Found it. http://nogames.wordpress.com/

    Seems like these are the guys behind the demonstrations. And anti Daley group. Again Politics, how sad.

    Although it would be nice for countries to get better at international politics and just open up their borders.

  61. I’m from Chicago and am really glad we didn’t get the vote. The city is busting at the seams with its own residents already. It’s ludicrous to think that we can squeeze in another couple million. And don’t even get me started on the ecological impact it would have…

  62. I’ve been to Moscow and other Eastern European countries (both before and after communism collapsed) and none of their border guards ever gave me as much hassle as the US border. Fair enough may be when I was on a visa waiver but now I pay out in excess of $4000 to maintain my and my wife’s visas and I still get treated like crap when I try to reenter the US. Come on guys I pay taxes, own a house (and pay property taxes) here what more do you want.

    For the Americans who are commenting about the TSA that’s not what we are complaining about, we’re talking about that long line/scrum of people you go past at immigration. Yes the TSA is annoying but compared to immigration they are powerless buffoons who can be safely ignored.

    PS Note the $4000 figure includes the $1000 bribe you have to pay to get your visa processed in time to avoid ICE deporting you.

  63. As a Canadian, I haven’t been to the US in about 15 years. I have travelled twice to Europe. Entry into Germany and France from Canada was a breeze. In the few places where there were non-Schengen border checks, officers either scanned or typed my passport number. That was it other than the customary stamp in my passport.

    Do I care to go to the US which now requires passports form Canadians? No. I can use my passport more easily to get into Europe.

  64. Coming to the US is a harrowing experience and HUMILIATING too. Im from Sri Lanka and I travelled to Washington on a business matter this year.
    For allowing my Visa, the US Embassy fingerprinted me, asked me if i had a car, the house I live in really belonged to me – just so make sure that i dont “jump ship” and become an illegal immigrant.
    I hope the US treats other nations in the world with respect.
    Good show Brazil, and good luck with the Olympics !

  65. I have less trouble entering countries in Europe than I do leaving the US where I am a citizen. Last time I was leaving for Paris the TSA dude shoved me in that weird blowing air booth thing because I thought I was supposed to put my passport in the x-rayable bin when I was supposed to carry it. I guess I thought the RFID thing would set off the alarm. But this made him suspicious of me so I got yelled at and my laptop got searched and I got thrown into the glass booth.

    When I arrived in Paris, the man said “Bonjour!” and didn’t even look at my passport. It was very civilized.

    re #66 Kurtwagner, My friend, a female graduate student, is from Sri Lanka. After going home after the tsunami to help her family with the clean up she returned to the US where she was held at the airport for 48 hours until someone from our university could verify that she really was who she said she was.

    There is also the problem of the US collecting bio-metric data: Giorgio Agamben, an Italian philosopher and intellectual refused to give a lecture in the United States in January 2004 because under the US-VISIT he would have been required to give up his biometric information, which he believed stripped him to a state of “bare life” (zoe) and was akin to the tattooing that the Nazis did during World War II.

    I am sorry that Rio won the Olympics though because the Olympics are terrible to their host cities and I love Rio: http://www.alternet.org/story/56128/

  66. Serves them right. The US Customs and Immigration people have treated me, so many people in my family, and so many good, innocent, law-abiding Pakistanis like dirt. I’m so glad the IOC representative was able to speak his mind and tell the truth, without any of the commercial pressure from the US which usually lets them get away with their prejudices.

  67. Face it. The Olympics were lost (in part) because Obama came off as a whiny, unprepared, demanding brat who stormed in and demanded the IOC bow to his will. He’s a political dilettante, and his staff is underwhelming.

    Airport security blows for US and foreign travelers, agreed. There’s been plenty of time to fix the problem under the current Administration. It remains because it suits their needs.

  68. So the idea I’m supposed to accept is that US Immigration & TSA policies are so onerous, so unbearable that the Chicago bid was lost because of them, BUT oddly, the IOC didn’t consider these terrible, onerous policies until Chicago made it all the way to the final four cities?

    I can see travellers from other countries not liking our policies here in the US, but I can’t believe that all the delegates put their concerns about this aside UNTIL Chicago was in the final rounds.

    If it was as important as this article makes it out to be, it should have disqualified Chicago much earlier in the process, no?

    That the Chicago team didn’t have a handy answer to the question probably hurt their chances, but the policies themself? Not so much…

    Also, how enlightened are the immigration and customs process in Japan, Spain, and Brazil now? What will they be in 2016? Were any of the other delegations asked to offer “special passage” to olympic guests?

    I think this is one possible explaination that resonates with a few folks – there are countless other theories (Obama, Michelle, and Oprah eclipsed IOC delegates, internal discord in the US Olympic organization, reluctance to return to US so soon, etc.), but in the end Chicago only got 18 votes. How many of the 18 voters for Chicago were members of the US delegation? I think ultimately the greatest number of voters simply didn’t want the Olympics back in the US so soon…

  69. @Timothy Hutton: The Brazilian immigration process is extremely enlightened – they practice extreme reciprocity.

    When someone else travels there on a U.S. passport, they get treated the way Brazilians at the U.S. border get treated.

  70. I think people are overstating the issue of US Customs. It might have been a slight issue but the undeniable reality is that the Olympics have NEVER been held in South America whereas the US has hosted them on multiple occasions. In the future, if it ever comes down to a viable African candidate versus a country/continent that has hosted the Olympics before we’ll see a similar upset.

  71. #76 Timothy Hutton, this is admittedly a guess all around, but it is remotely possible that when the whole committee visited the 4 finalists, rather than just a representative, perhaps more than one member had a difficult time with US Customs.

    #78 Anon, the Olympics is an international event where hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators come from outside the host country. Clearly, travel and accommodations, which includes border policy, are at the top of the list of criteria. There are cities in Africa that could handle an Olympics, but they have to want to.

  72. My understanding is that the 2016 decision hasn’t yet been made. The rumours are though that Chicago is in 3rd or 4th place behind Madrid, Tokyo and Rio (no order implied).

  73. @80 a bronze medal at the olympics is still pretty awesome. anyways, it’s the taking part that counts.

  74. All this hassle but once you are in the U.S. it is illegal for a police officer to ask you if you entered legally! Next just walk across the border where it isn’t guarded!

  75. are lines annoying? yes. are lines that cause you to miss flights extra annoying? yes!! having said that, i do believe that the power hungry TSA agents (literally they are ridicoulus) are a serious problem that should be taken care of. the stories told here are just a small smattering of the pain, embarrassment and anger they have caused (my grandfather was once detained for 6 hrs while my grandmother literally almost died waiting for him to give her her medication (which they wouldnt let him do until he was done the ‘interview’.

    I do not believe that the security is the primary reason Chicago lost, as mentioned by previous commenters there had to be a few more reasons than just ‘bad security’ to tip the scales. Of course we can never forget, perhaps Rio was just the better city.


    – Canada

  76. #28 Osno — not to diminish the idiocy of the situation, but in my extensive experience, a pen is No Problem even in the US of A. I always carry one when traveling, for reasons you now can understand, and I’ve never had a problem.

    Just carry a cheap ballpoint with little intrinsic and no sentimental value. At worst you’ll have to throw it away. Barring Kafka-esque idiocy of course, but as you learned you can get caught in that for not having a ballpoint too! Better hanged for a ballpoint-carrying goat than a sheep, say I.

  77. It’s a harrowing experience going from Pittsburgh to Sarasota, thanks to the dedicated crew of [deleted] agents we aren’t even allowed to talk about. Meanwhile I was sitting by the window tweeting all the suspicious activity of the people around my plane, all dressed like baggage handlers and ramp personnel. How many terrorists have we caught in the airports since 2001? Are they unwilling to remove their shoes?

  78. crenelle – a valid point, but my limited understanding of the process leads me to belive there were numerous, repeated visits by both the representatives and the voting members of the IOC. Also, again, my limited understanding of the process also leads me to believe that numerous other cities/countries applied for consideration, but some process whittled down the list to four – if the travel experiences were so horrorific, why keep Chicago on the short list?

    Also, Chicago didn’t fare that bad:

    The first-round vote totals showed Madrid with 28, Rio 26, Tokyo 22, and Chicago 18. Source

    The thing I read that sounds the most plausable was that Madrid stole votes from Chicago, when the head of the IOC (who is from spain) reminded everyone of his age, and his desire to have the Olympics awarded to his home country…

    1. “The first-round vote totals showed Madrid with 28, Rio 26, Tokyo 22, and Chicago 18. ”

      So what you are saying is that 75% of people not wanting you is not that bad?

      When did they stop teaching arithmetic in the US?

  79. OSNO

    (“and had to present the absurd form where you state you don’t want to kill the president”)

    I wonder what that dates to. Kennedy? I had a classmate of Lebanese descent in high school who, when faced with this question at about 15 in the 1970s, foolishly answered yes. Needless to say, this resulted in some hours of questioning. He was incredulous: if it were true, which it wasn’t, of course he would have lied.

    Then there was a college friend, from Chile, who at 13 was stopped because he shared a name with the former finance minister of the government we’d overthrown. It took some work to persuade the agents that he was not that finance minister.

    I do think the agents might have had a point with a traveling companion from Harvard, of West Indian & German descent, who’d grown up in Paris. We were returning from a trip to Brussels, Amsterdam, & Morocco, during which I’d decided he was a jerk; among other things, I’d had to talk him out of taking hashish from Amsterdam to Morocco – but I still very much doubt they’d have made him empty his entire can of shaving cream out if he hadn’t had dark skin and a bit of an accent. And that was in 1986. Yes, he was a jerk, but not a threat to anyone but himself or his friends.

  80. Anecdote A: Last year I took a hiking trip in Peru, and our guide, age 48, who had lived his entire life in Cusco where he had a house, a car, a wife, three kids, and a good job that he loves, told me that he had never been able to visit the U.S. because he had repeatedly been turned down for a tourist visa. He assumed it was because someone figured that he wanted nothing more than to run away from his entire happy life and overstay his tourist visa to live alone and illegally in the U.S.

    Anecdote B: Just recently came back from a trip to Europe, entering at the hellish, dank, leaking, horrifically overcrowded Delta international terminal at JFK at peak Saturay mid-afternoon arrival time. The signage directing people to the proper line — “US citizen/permanent resident” or “everyone else” was, naturally in English only and small, ill-placed and easy to miss. As a result, a lot of arriving foreigners ended up in the wrong line, getting yelled at by the TSA security folks whose idea of “directing” them to the proper line was waving vaguely in the direction of an inchoate mass of people, and screaming at them in English — the operative theory, apparently, being that if someone doesn’t understand you when you speak to them in English, they will understand if you scream at them in English.

    Who trains these people?

  81. The US customs make you feel unwelcome to the US.

    The “All foreigners are bad intentioned until proven the contrary” Philosophy on the CUSTOMS is retrograd.

    Hope you dont catch the customs agent in a bad mood, then you just get deported.

    Comming to US for a foreigner IS SCARY, period.

  82. @ #50 Zaphod
    “… has anyone quantified the loss to tourism of all this security procedures?”

    Although that doesn’t talk about the opportunity costs of lost tourism dollars. As I recall there was a study done 2-3 (maybe more?) years ago about the impact on tourism, and – again, as i recall – the cost was something like $60B to that point in time (i.e., about half the time between 9/11 and now). Unfortunately, I can’t easily find a link to it, although ISTR it was posted here on BB at some point.


  83. And you thought the US Immigration people are bad, wait till you hear this story about the US State Department from just five weeks ago.
    The most arbitrary bureaucratic decision in my well-travelled 48 years.
    I a New Zealander, my German wife and my infant son had planned to visit the States for 118 days. We needed a Visa so we went to the Berlin Embassy five weeks ago on an early Monday morning. After a tortuous entry into the Embassy (no phones allowed and no bags whatsoever) and after paying €300 (approx. US$400) this no-name no-badge official asked us just five questions in under five minutes, looked at no documents, pronounced the fact of longterm travel with an infant “too strange” and refused us!
    No comeback, no appeal and no discussion!
    I say sincerely the Nazis could not have bettered it!

  84. Someone wrote that Chicago lost an economic opportunity. Think again. The Olympics in the past 25 years have been mostly disastrous to the host cities, leaving them massively in debt and sometimes stuck with very large and very expensive-to-maintain facilities that are of no use. Athens is only just now repurposing some of the buildings from the 2004 games. Then there are various cases of peole being displaced from the sites of the facilities or just moved out of sight during the games. The last count of displaced peole – this means removed from their homes – in Beijing was two million.

    Then again, it turns out that the exceptions to the financial mess rule are Los Angeles and to a lesser extent Atlanta. The US allowed massive advertising and therefore spent less public money, and the games were in large cities where the facilities could be put to use afterwards. Also, the Olympics are not as big a deal to the US as they would be to a small European country (Greece) or to a country that wants them as a first-ever showcase (China, Brazil). That probably helped to avoid some of the excesses in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Anyhow, the IOC is a thoroughly corrupt organization, which practically guarantees that budgets will be exceeded. With current concerns about security, and the games being in a city like Rio, you can pretty much guarantee the use of a massive police force.

  85. Just echoing the last anonymous, Chicago dodged a bullet (no pun intended).

    The games here in the UK will cost us upwards of the equivalent of $16 billion. For that, we’re receiving (i) white elephant facilities of little use or unavailable to the average citizen that the public will have to either maintain at great expense or beg a private operator to take off their hands; and (ii) more expensive housing built in the most overpriced area of the country.

    We have structural problems in our national housing market, absolutely none of which involve private developers being disinterested in investing in housing in the south-east. We do have problems getting lower-paid workers esp. from the state sector into home ownership, but they won’t be able to afford the market rates for new-build homes in the “Olympic village”.

    We could of course use more sporting facilities and access to the outdoors for people of all ages, but none of the ~US$16 billion is being spent on that.

  86. I actually would like to bring my family on a vacation in the US . Customs and Visa policy is THE issue that really keeps me from doing it.


  87. I’m a little bummed Chicago lost out. It would have been the first olympics within driving (even Amtrak) distance from where I live.

    If anything positive comes from the loss, I really hope it’s a total overhaul of customs and TSA. It’s gotten so bad that I’d rather drive 14 hours instead of putting up with the shenanigans at the airport for a 1.5 hour flight.

    I’m thoroughly annoyed that I’m still saying “I want my country back” this deep into the current president’s administration. It would appear that “change you can believe in” = status quo.

  88. How many of the 18 voters for Chicago were members of the US delegation?

    None of them. As long as your country is still in the running, you don’t vote. So in the first round, there were no voters from the USA, Brazil, Spain, or Japan. Furthermore, out of 106 IOC members, only two are from the USA.

  89. I extend my sympathies to non-US citizens and people who are FWB (Flying while Brown, or with a suspicious name like, gasp, Ahmad.).

    I did quite a bit of traveling for business in the 90s, so I have a fair amount of experience in dealing with undertrained and underendowed (not that kind) TSA officials.

    However, as we all seem to agree upon, things have gotten MUCH worse.

    The last time I flew in from Paris (deGaulle), my connection was through Dulles. Now, it’s not just that at least 300 people were shuttled into one room to wait for customs (2.5 hrs to clear), but the scene was so chaotic that anyone with a BoMB could have planted it and escaped in that mess. It was an utter and unmitigated disaster waiting to happen. No control whatsoever. No air-conditioning. No distinct lines.

    I really felt for the elderly and the motor-restricted. I tried to help them out in getting into the right line and trying to convince the three (3!) TSA employees present to hurry the elderly travelers through the check points. No FUCKING dice. At all.

    They didn’t even give the least shit. Either that or they’re completely inured to their job like those Einsatzgruppen bastards. I saw old women and men in wheel chairs with oxygen waiting in a cavernous, non-air-conditioned scene of utter melée.

    Now, I am sole caretaker of my parents (76 and 80 y.o.). They like to travel but they’ve sworn off international travel since 9/11 because they’re afraid that they’ll be stranded, have a stroke or a heart-attack and they’ll just lay there dying.I this case, I don’t think my mother is exagerrating.

    Now, my father’s last wish was to visit Wales to see the country in which his father grew up. It is not going to happen now. Sure, there are bullets my parents could bite, but they don’t have it in them and they’re scared that they’ll be crushed or forgotten within the TSA quagmire. I’ve done as much as I can to convince them that I would accompany them and take care of them but they don’t want that because it’s degrading. But their concerns are valid. For the elderly, 4 hours waiting in an overheated, sweaty room could mean infection with dangerous viruses, the inability to take meds, and the general discomfort of being stuck in one uncomfortable place for hours.

    Just another example of how fucked the US is when it comes to fighting “terror.”

  90. I’m a little late to this thread but…

    Having traveled extensively I can say that customs in most places can be a little harrowing. While the experience varies in the US based on where you enter/depart. Chicago (for citizens) is not that bad, and Miami just sucks in general.

    When returning from Nicaragua I was asked all sorts of ridiculous questions. When I started a long winded synopsis about supporting social justice and researching the hellish effects of US intervention in a sovereign nation the agent actually stopped me saying “okay okay, shut up kid and just get out of my sight.” Easy enough even if a little rude. When I returned from Colombia a year later nobody seemed to care at all, I could have had a duffel full of coke and seemingly nothing would have stopped me. Non citizens though were being given the full treatment. A few years later, returning from Rio, the experience was just stupid. I had spent over six months bouncing around South America and therefore was selected for special screening in Miami. In Rio the agents gave me shit over a couple of (dead) lighters (kept for sentimental/souvenir purposes) I had for some reason forgotten to put in my checked bags. They ultimately let me get on the plane to Panama city with them and two full bottles of cachaca (Brazilian cane liquor). In Panama city they told me about five minutes before boarding that I could not have the lighters or cachaca. So they had to get my checked bags so I could pack the items there instead. Nice of them no? That certainly would never happen in the US, my stuff would have been confiscated and destroyed. And when I finally got to Chicago, my bag (that had made it to Miami intact) was soaked in cachaca. Baggage handlers should be indicted along with the TSA.

    And to echo/agree with a previous comment the Brazilian border agents do have a (somewhat understandable) reciprocity for US citizens. I traveled by boat from Colombia to Manaus via the Amazon. About three hours down river (well inside Brazil) the boat stopped at the station in Ipiranga around midnight. Everybody was rousted out of bed (hammock) and given the once over. When the agent got to me he asked for my documents. When he saw the US passport he smirked and said “American eh.” He and two other agents proceeded to open all of my carefully packed bags and scatter the contents all over the deck of the boat and having found nothing left me to pack them all back up with irritable Brazilians waiting for me so they could go back to sleep. The French and Dutch guys I had befriended had no such experience.

    Also, if the Pan American games are any indicator of what the Olympics will be like in Rio then I have to say be careful if you plan on going. They drastically ramped up security and Brazilian police are not exactly trustworthy.

  91. Funny to read all these stories. No need to add my own.
    But one additional idea for US politics:
    Why not bomb Iran?
    – And thus increase the number and the determination of lethal enemies to strike back – and thus create ever more urgency to intensify the security measures on US borders to the point of …
    Kafka’s Castle?

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