Update: Congressman Ed Perlmutter met with US Customs after hearing her story and got them to waive Crystal’s fine and reinstate her Global Entry status.
I think that’s appropriate given the innocent mistake based on an apple obtained on the plane and due to the snarkiness of the customs agent. A warning to a first-time offender makes sense to me.
Her story has already changed how I travel.
When I flew back from my family from Tel Aviv last month I declared having food with us that I previously might not have declared. Our items were fairly innocuous, we brought back some Kariot cereal, Smirnoff Ice bottles, pas yisroel Oreos, chocolate, wine, and similar items that customs doesn’t care about. We had to have our bags X-rayed at customs, which was a pain. But that’s surely better than potentially losing Global Entry status and facing a fine!
Crystal Tadlock flew on Delta from Paris to Minneapolis. Delta had apples on the flight and she put on into her bag without thinking about it.
She had a Global Entry membership, so instead of signing a form, she just went to a kiosk to enter the country. It’s very easy to answer “No to all” and not even think about the line asking about bringing in fruits or vegetables.
The kiosk prints a slip which you hand over to a customs agent. The agent stopped her and asked her if her French vacation was expensive. She answered that it was and he replied that it’s going to be even more expensive thanks to the $500 fine I’m giving you for having an apple in your bag.
Talk about being snarky!
She also lost her Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check membership, which makes flying a pleasure once again. That would hurt me even more than the fine.
The crazy thing is that it almost happened to me.
In 2014 we flew with our kids to Brazil:
- Trip Notes Brazil Part 1: 10 Years Of Travel And Deal Blogging And A Return To Where It All Began (Published 11/23/14)
- Trip Notes Brazil Part 2: Flying “Private” To Sao Paulo With Miles (Published 2/7/16)
- Trip Notes Brazil Part 3: Iguaçu Falls (Published 4/17/16)
- Trip Notes Brazil Part 4: Rio de Janeiro (Published 5/1/16)
We had an overnight in Miami on the way there and stayed at the W South Beach. Rafi was obsessed with apples at the time and his face lit up when he saw the giant basket of red and green apples that they have at the front desk there. He grabbed several of them and we thought nothing more about them.
In a Sao Paulo flea market, we even got 2 small paintings of red and green apples for Rafi’s room back home.
Fast forward to the end of the trip. After a nerve racking missed flight due to gridlock in Rio de Janeiro, we made the connecting flight from Sao Paulo to Miami by the skin of our teeth. Good thing to, as missing it would have meant adding another Shabbos in Brazil and missing out on the final TAM first class flight, where I had used 500K USAirways miles round-trip to book the entire $100,000 living room style cabin exclusively for us:
In Miami we got pulled aside by customs who asked if we had any fruits or vegetables with us. One of the things I love about Brazil are the incredible exotic fruits that they have there. I’ve always wished I could bring some home, but I would never risk doing that. So I answered of course not and he proceeded to search our bags. And sure enough, in Rafi’s little monkey backpack was one of the apples that he had taken from the W South Beach to Brazil and back to Miami again!
The agent was livid as we explained that we had no idea about the apple being in the backpack, but that Rafi must have put it in his bag in Miami. Incredulously, he turned to 3 year old Rafi and asked him if he was the one that put the apple in his backpack in Miami and Rafi confirmed exactly that.
The agent then laughed and waived us through, but I shudder to think about what could have been if he was in a worse mood.
Not all countries are as vigilant as the US. In Palau, the customs agents were shocked to learn about kosher food and how I travel everywhere with my own food, but they said to be sure to tell all of my friends about their awesome country. Despite spending just 1 night, I did have the time of my life there.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for bringing food into a country?