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Thursday, March 17, 2005

This Can't be What American Airlines Had in Mind...

... when they decided to run those flights from Toronto to Chicago, Toronto to Miami, Toronto to Charlotte, Toronto to Dallas, Toronto to New York...

If white-collar business types are going to be treated like common criminals, then maybe you should just ground the damn planes! We'll drive down, and just tell Customs we're going for a plate of wings.

Blogging expert Eric Wright isn't the only one who has been interrogated by US Customs in the little room at Pearson Airport.

Happened to me shortly before a one-hour flight to Chicago to speak at Nielsen Norman User Experience. I got the guy right out of a movie, screaming at me that he didn't like the way I was answering the questions.

Now apparently, under NAFTA, there are strict rules if you're going to the U.S. to any kind of paid speaking gig. Unless you are uniquely qualified to do so. By uniquely qualified, this means you must have written a book or something. Or, you must have a signed letter from the conference organizers. Or... you must have appropriate professional qualifications. When you read over the chart, it appears that to give a speech on marketing, "appropriate professional qualifications" are a Bachelor's degree in... any subject. Hooray, I'm actually overqualified!

To prove this, under the strict letter of the law, you need to bring a photocopy of your transcripts to the airport. (I'm not making this up!) Has anyone ever done this? I strongly doubt it.

Unlike Wright, I eventually got handed a NAFTA pamphlet and was allowed to board my one-hour flight to Chicago.

At one point, I thought I had it licked. U.S. customs agents like eye contact. Don't like mumbling. They like it when you smile a bit. So, don't look down, smile like a movie star, and be confident. Also, lie and say you're not being compensated for speaking. Last month, this methodology worked perfectly. Not that it needed to, since I'm a law-abiding citizen. I marched happily forward after getting the nod from the agent. Then got pulled aside for a random suitcase search!

As for Wright, maybe the agent wasn't as dumb as he seemed. I'm guessing Wright's mother phoned ahead. I mean, she's right. The agent's right. Wright's wrong. You can't make a living from blogging. You must be lying.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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