Monday, 19 April 2010

I'm in the System

Given the myriad of travel horror stories that I have relayed over these past many years, I thought it prudent to show my pleasure when something in the travel industry actually works the way for which it was designed. After my last miserable experience attempting to navigate the layers of customs and security at Pearson International, I decided on the spot to apply for a wondrous little card that expedites travel for pre-approved individuals. As I sat seething and stewing in Terminal 1 waiting for the right to be herded, grilled, and frisked last February, I noticed that certain people were simply walking into the customs area, free from the cattle rearing tactics of Transport Canada employees. Not only that, one such employee was handing out information cards as to how we all could join the civilized in our pursuit of a somewhat less ulcer-inducing border cross. I eagerly pocketed said card with a promise to myself to check out the details when I was again free.

When The Husband joined me in the Southern Home a few weeks later, we jointly sat at our laptops and filled out the online form with the Department of Homeland Security. It sounded and felt quite ominous and frightening given the fact that certain U.S congressmen and senators have found their names on no-fly lists, and I was convinced that somewhere out there some jackass sharing my name had misbehaved in a manner unbecoming to the moniker. After an exhausting hour, during which I yelled mercilessly at The Husband for going too quickly in his form-filling and moving pages ahead of me before I was ready, we were ready to hit that all-important final SEND key and enter into the system. No longer could I claim anonymity with either government. I was being investigated. The ubiquitous background check was put into motion. I sincerely hoped that they wouldn't care about or discover that little incident of a few years back that caught me up in a web of a traffic traps, and ticketed me for driving in the carpool lane. I knew from the extensive literature doled out on both sides of the border that this was a zero-tolerance program, and any perceived infraction would find me back milling with the masses in the terminal. I hit the key, watched the forms disappear into cyberspace, and with them, a bit of my civil liberties vanished as well. I became a part of the system.

We waited with some anticipation for the confirmation that we had cleared the first hurdle. When the email arrived informing us that we had been conditionally approved and that the next step was a face-to-face at Pearson, we were actually thrilled. We were one step closer to possibly eliminating an hour or more from our trips. The Husband and I co-ordinated our schedules and had back-to-back appointments at the airport. After a thorough lecture from Transport Canada officials about the dangers of not declaring granola bars and apples, we were once again advised that this was a zero-tolerance program. (By the way-I jest about the food stuff, but these guys are deadly serious. If one travels with food and does not declare it under this program, the consequences are swift and severe. Out you go and no discussion!! I have decided that I would rather buy my gum and mints on the other side of security.) We then had our iris' scanned and our information rechecked. Another Transport Canada employee gave us a tutorial on how to use the automated machines, and checked to make certain that our iris' registered in the data base. Another short wait and we were finally ushered towards our final hurdle-a one on two with American Homeland Security. The young man was polite, but extraordinarily firm. He did all the talking and except for our occasional "deer-in the headlights" nods of understanding, we kept quiet. We were electronically fingerprinted and photographed, and finally informed that we would receive our confirmations and cards within 10 days. Utopia was ours.

I returned home to discover my confirmation email awaiting me. The Husband's was not quite so forthcoming. 10 days later, my card arrived in the mail as promised. No special delivery, no registered-just regular Canada Post, while The Husband still had not been approved. We joked that maybe they discovered that speeding ticket he failed to pay on a return trip from Indiana 30 years ago. Still, he wasn't happy at the prospect of re-starting the entire process, and I worried that we weren't going to be able to travel together. (I was not going to allow a little thing like his non-approval keep me from Nirvana! Separate flights might definitely be in our future.) Yesterday, he finally received his approval. The card will be arriving shortly.

While I am thrilled to be using this program and I will do absolutely nothing to jeopardize my membership, there is a sense that some level of innocence is gone forever. I am now identifiable. My anonymity is but a memory. Is this the price I am willing to pay for expedience? I suppose so, but there is still something slightly unnerving about the fact that I, a truly law-abiding citizen, am sitting in the same data base with those less savoury. The world is a new place and I have become part of the system.


  1. Hi Dawn: I have had the Nexus card that you are talking about for almost 2 years now. In general the card and fast access through customs in BOTH directions going to the US and returning to Canada is fantastic. Some observations:
    1. US customs does do spot checks from time to time and will pull you aside to 'rip you apart' and ask some 'fresh questions". In the time that I have had the card this has happened twice.
    2. The customs machine wit iris recognition (souped up ATMs) are not always working. This happens about 20% of the time. You then get in the 'pilots, crew & VIP lane'.
    3. The actual BIGGEST benefit I have found which I appreciate the most now is my use of the card when I return to Canada as you bypass Canada customs and head pretty much straight to the luggage area after going through a Nexus ATM. Sometime the entry to Canada lines can be WORSE than the outgoing US lines. The only 'gotcha' is if you check luggage. This is a hurry up and wait situation as luggage can take 30+ minutes to arrive on bad days.
    Overall it is the BEST US$50 I have ever spent.

  2. Dawn, this little gem may be right for this place:

    if you'd like a little broader exposure.

    You could use a pen name.

    No guarantees and I'm only one of three eds, but I think it has a chance.


  3. Thanks for the suggestion, John.
    I will consider it. I appreciate the feedback.