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Clusterfuck is the apposite word to describe the totally inept people wrangling I experienced at YVR today. I note that this is the worst example I have experienced here (my many past experiences were relatively pleasant), and I want to stress that the usual difficult passage, US Immigration, was quick and almost friendly. More on that below, as what I learned today plays into an earlier post on LAX Immigration experiences recently.

Opening the show was the Air Canada check in counter: no signage indicates that one must use the external kiosks to check in and—worse—an unhappy middle aged man, an Air Canada official, asked me my flight time, then informed me, “Well, you have to check in”, and gestured me directly to the busy line (about 40 people; this all 3.5 hours before flight time).

I shuffled my bags through the tape cattle barriers (which sadist thought that up?), and then another official told me to get my bag tag from the kiosk and then to return to another area to be ingested by the system more quickly; I agreed. Despite a higher degree in science and a more than passing familiarity with both logic and the English language, navigating the kiosk was a nightmare; not only did it ask me for a street address in the US (what is LAX’s street address?) it would not issue a bag tag, despite correct entry of the critical variable in the relevant screen: the integer 1. OTOH, it was able to burp up three baggage tags; things were looking up!

I returned to the indicated ingestion point, whereupon yet another official, this one looking like a harried, and simultaneously baffled, aerobics instructor who had done way too much of it in the past and whose body was clearly unhappy about this told me that I had to return to the end of the first queue, now swollen to ~100 upset people. I gave her a brief précis of the circumstances that brought me to her, and further indicated that I would not return to the end of the line. An operative became free, and I walked to her. She was able to coax a tag out of a sulky machine, and I was past check point 1.

I dragged my check-in bag (smoothly rolling despite the carpet) to the bag drop-off conveyor belts; interesting and inexplicably, the lower ends of the belts, where anyone else would have thought to be the best place to actually load heavy check in bags was blocked off by more of the blue cattle wranglers. So, as a direct result, the elderly, the overweight, and the infirm, had to lift their bags up ~800mm, over the 300mm edges of the belts, even though the actual ends of the belts (sensibly designed to allow bags to be simply tipped over on to them) were not accessible. Both belts were set up this way. Check point 2.

Like any decent game, the next barrier was more challenging: security. After I showed my boarding pass and passport to a 100% asleep official (I believe I could have shown her my MasterCard), I was pointed left; and the woman in front of me the “Exit–Sortie” gate to the right, which opened directly to a security belt—one of only two operating. Lucky her. I joined a queue of approximately 75 unhappy people; this queue snaked its way all around the perimeter of the security area, a demented Conga line, where eight other, un-personned, security belts waited, their blinking lights a mute presence. I asked another official what criteria were applied to the streaming of the lucky ones directly to the closed belt; she offered three or four inconsistent possibilities, before saying, “That’s a different company”. She had zero idea; her job was simply to control the Conga line.

Time passed; I was waved through to the second belt. I did the usual: the MBA was placed in its own tray, and my other items put on this belt into the machine. Then I waited, again, for about ten minutes. I glanced past the metal detector and saw the holdup:

A gigantic overweight (OK; total frankness here: obese) woman in a wheelchair, was wheeled past the metal detector, and then was asked to stand with her arms outstretched; she could do neither. So, one of the other security staff who was thus taken away from her job of getting bags into the X-ray machine left her post, stopping this process, and she and the first official worked heroically to lift the passenger into an unstable, upright position, whereupon the most lengthy, and thorough, frisk that I have ever witnessed occurred: no fat was untouched.

It gets better: the same official (Lilli) then patted the wheelchair down: the crazy thing (in addition to the obvious general craziness) was that this was a YVR official-and-stamped wheelchair. When I asked an official (not a worker; a lurker with no clear function) why Lilli was patting down the official airport wheelchair, she answered, “Well, something could be packed in there”.

But Lilli was only brushing the chrome and vinyl of the exterior surfaces of the chair, so it was not immediately clear how this process would uncover contraband. If you can tell me Lilli (if you are reading), please do, I’d like to know. Check point 3; one to go, the big one: USCIS.

But total anticlimax (and I was ready, I can tell you, ESTA visa waiver in hand). The official (friendly, within the no-doubt prescribed official limits) told me that my “O1 visa trumped all other requirements; exactly what the Embassy in Sydney told me. But the LA official, on the way in, was not going to let me pass the barrier: his supervisor overrode him, readers may recall. A classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? Security requirements? Need to know? Noentheless, he told me that with both an ESTA Visa Waiver and an O1 work visa, I was “covered”, and with that blessing I stepped onto US soil. I took a deep breath, and relaxed. The fourth and final barrier had been passed; I am on my way back home.

Man plans; God laughs—no sooner than I finished this, the zip on my pants has broken: this is the new look: