Dallas: home of cowboys and inefficiency

EVERYTHING in the US is said to be big. That is very true of Dallas, the first city I saw in the US of A. But big does not equal efficiency; it only looks grand, it just isn’t so.

Take the system for checking people through immigration; it’s clumsy, and there are a lot of barely educated types in uniforms who do nothing but add to the problems.

The US has a requirement that every non-citizen fill in a form from the Department of Homeland Security, in addition to the regular customs declaration. This form is not given to passengers on airliners that land in the US; only the customs form is given.

The DHS form is only available near the immigration queues, and there is no indication as to who needs to fill it in. If you’ve entered this country before, then you would know. Else, you wouldn’t have a clue.

A simple notice, in big type, providing the information about the DHS form would not cost much, though Uncle Sam is now in deep trouble as far as money goes. It would avoid telling people who have made their way through the queue and are close to being checked that they need to go back and fill another form.

People who land in the US have travelled from near and far and nobody looks forward to the prospect of spending more time in the immigration queue. But to many that is exactly what happens.

To add to that, once one starts filling the DHS form there are many half-educated officials who approach and try to help. A man who barely spoke English offered to help me fill out my form. I didn’t need his help but many others did avail of aid from him and others; it took them ages.

There are many well-dressed officials around the airport, replete with the trademark hats that one associates with Texas. Here again, not all the information that is doled out is correct. To a newcomer, no information is much better than half-correct information.

The airlines do not seem to be able to leave on time. I had a flight from Dallas to Orlando, Florida, that was supposed to leave at five minutes past five in the evening. The time for departure was gradually extended by 15- or 30-minute blocks, until people were finally allowed to board with an expected departure time of 7.30pm. That extended to 7.45pm, with the last 15 minutes being spent on the tarmac. At no point were officials willing to tell passengers the full story – it came in drips and drabs, with the whole thing attributed to maintenance staff.

And this is said to have once been the third biggest international entry point in this country after JFK in New York and Chicago.


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