Pilots wait hours to clear customs, cross border

March 25, 2013

Pilots trying to clear customs to return to the United States are feeling the effects of sequestration up close and personal—sometimes stuck in their aircraft for hours before being permitted to deplane.

Rick Gardner, AOPA’s authorized representative for the Bahamas, Mexico, and Central America, contacted AOPA staff from Fort Lauderdale Executive after waiting in his aircraft for more than two hours to clear customs. Pilots must stay in their aircraft upon arrival at a port of entry until a customs official meets them. Hours-long waits can be problematic, especially in warmer climates along the southern U.S. border.

AOPA Vice President of the Pilot Information Center Woody Cahall contacted fixed-base operators in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, who confirmed that aircraft were backed up to clear customs.

Pilots who have contacted AOPA after clearing customs have said that officials are blaming the long waits on a reduction in staffing because of the sequester. So far, reports of delays have come to AOPA only from pilots crossing the U.S. southern border, particularly in Florida and Texas. The association has not yet received reports of similar problems from pilots crossing the border from Canada.

AOPA continues to reach out to Customs and Border Protection officials to determine the agency’s ultimate plan for clearing pilots into the United States; however, customs officials have not released any plans.

Meanwhile, pilots should plan for delays when clearing customs and try to remain patient. Pilots who exit their aircraft before being met by a customs official could be hit with a violation.