Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Passports and Crew Members

After flying the last 10yrs as a Domestic Flight Attendant, I never got the chance to do much flying as an International Flight Attendant....well, especially since my carrier keeps the two separate. However, I have gone on trips overseas where I needed my US Passport to clear Customs and Immigration control.

When you are a passenger on a flight, or boat, and travel into a different Country, you need to clear their Immigration Control checkpoints. There, the Immigration officer would input your data into a system to check to make sure you aren't an International fugitive, and that you are OK to be in their Country.

When I was based out of Chicago, I did a lot of flying into and out of Canada, and Mexico. Whenever we would clear Customs, the Customs officials would often stamp your passport showing that you were in the Country and that you were OK to be a visitor on Business. The only problem is after a while, your passport would fill up and you would need to pay and order for inserts to put into your Passport. This can get costly (thankfully most carriers reimburse their crew members for Passports and/or Inserts as the Passport is something required for their job)

Now that I'm an International Flight Attendant, I'm noticing that when you are a crew member, there are some Countries that require you to clear through the normal route, and others that don't check your passport just as long as you were on a 'GenDecs' form that has Cargo Documents and Crew names. The only problem is, as being a new International Flight Attendant...along with being a Purser, there is a LOT to learn. Some countries require you to hand over all the documents to the agents before passengers disembark, others require you to keep a few copies so when you go through different checkpoints, you hand over a document to an Immigration Officer.

Some countries require only a Passport, some require a number of forms that can be from just 1 form to 3 or even 4 forms. I know when you travel into Mexico as a visitor (as well as coming into the United States as a visitor) you are given a 'visitor' card that you must keep with you in case you are stopped by authorities to show you are authorized to be in the country. When you leave, you hand in the form.

Some countries require that you go to certain Embassy's to get a Visitor Visa to visit their country either as a visitor or a business traveler. Often times, these Visa's cannot be interchanged and you have to apply for visitor/business Visa separately. Being a airline crew member, majority of our Visa's are designated as a Business Visa and often are reimbursed by the airline, and cannot be used as a visitor to that country.

Upon returning to the United States, we as crew-members have a crew form that we fill out to claim any type of Duty-Free merchandise we bought abroad, or in-flight. It's a pretty simple form and makes it so much easier to enter than having to continuously fill out the normal US Customs forms.
Depending on what city you are arriving to, and how many flights are arriving at the same time, you can either clear customs rather quickly, or it can be a painstakingly long wait to clear customs. Often times, the names have to be correct on the form, or otherwise it might be a little difficult for that crew member to pass through security (LOL)

There is a new way to clear customs through the Global Entry program. It allows citizens and Crew-members to clear customs without having to wait in the long lines to talk with a Customs Border Protection Officer. For a nominal fee, you can get a pass, where all you have to do is go to Kiosks at select airports,  answer select questions, and go on your way. Once you answer the questions, you are given a slip of paper and you show it to a Border Patrol Officer before exiting the Customs area.

I just wish there was a way to know, before hand, which country requires what. Thankfully I've been very fortunate and have had some great crews who have been to the places I have been to so far and know what is required and/or needed. Requirements do change often within certain time frames, but it would still be good to know before you're caught off guard of what is needed.

Another item that would be good is to know what cities/layovers have to offer, but I guess I'll have to save that for another blog posting!