Spread-eagled in Seattle

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 12:00am

To the letters about what is in store for visitors flying into San Francisco and New York, may I add Seattle airport to the list.

My friend and I were subjected to similar rudeness and surly behaviour by both immigration and customs officials after stepping off a flight from Hong Kong. My crime was to have several Thai immigration stamps in my passport and to be travelling with a Chinese friend.

Why should anyone want to go to Thailand so often unless they are smuggling drugs? Why was I travelling with a Chinese companion? My explanation that for Hong Kong residents a trip to Bangkok was no different to Londoners going to Paris or Vancouver residents driving to Seattle for a weekend carried no weight.

The officer drew a red ring on our immigration cards, then gave a nod and a wink to a customs officer, who led us off to retrieve our baggage and hence to the search rooms. Inside I was spread-eagled against a wall and had every inch of my body squeezed and prodded. Not finding any heroin, they asked me to state exactly how much money I was carrying, which led to a count of everything in my wallet and bags, including change.

After almost an hour we were told we could go. No apology for the rough treatment. When I said 'Is this how tourists are welcomed in your country?' the officer retorted: 'Complain if you want.' It seems that government employees at Seattle and other US entry points just do not like tourists entering the country.

A few tips for tourists determined to visit the US: never use a passport containing Thai immigration stamps. If you are Caucasian, never line up at Customs with a Chinese or other Asian friend. Never take a lot of spending money with you - Customs officers resent it if you earn more than them.

The best option is to avoid the US. If you really must go, the coffee shop waitress might say it but don't expect to hear it from airport officials: 'Have a nice day'.

P. A. CRUSH, Sha Tin