The short straw

We were recently in passport control on our way back to the states. As we were in transit at the airport, we had transit passengers from various other flights and one of them seemed to be a flight heading back the UK. As per usual, passport control for non-citizens, non-ESTA countries (effectively Europe) was under staffed. We weren’t clear why the Brits weren’t on the ESTA queue. But, stuck in our queue, we heard one annoyed British accented voice after another complain about how preposterous the wait was. Some even called friends and family to tell them how ridiculous this was.

My wife and I found this all pretty amusing for two reasons. First, British passport control is actually among the most unfriendly to anyone who isn’t white skinned (even if the officers are a diverse mix). Often, they make you sorry for having taken a tourist trip to see their country. And, they take incredibly long, too. A below average wait at Heathrow if you are Asian/African is an hour. I once waited 3 hours at passport control after a 2.5 hour flight. That’s right – my travel time was shorter than my wait at passport control.

Second, none of the others on the queue yesterday had anything to say at the wait. It was just another day, just another flight. Wait 1 hour? No problem. At least it is not a pat down. Made to feel unwanted when visiting another country? That’s just business-as-usual.

The good news is that drawing the short straw every time for arbitrary reasons – i.e. birth and the color of your skin – helps you keep perspective when you face what should only be (for your own sanity at least) minor annoyances.

short straw