My mother always spoke of her hometown, Buffalo, as one in the long line of “one-worlders.” Who would have guessed that that distinction would someday carry so much significance for the population of Washington, D.C. At the airport? I doubt it, even though the capital has always been a center of international transit, largely because it is close to Europe and Asia. From Africa to South America, the United States has a strong and vibrant presence. But the airport remains a single-handed, mostly state-run enterprise, with little or no international access.
Alaska Airlines is the exception, offering nonstop flights from Seattle to D.C. (known as Seattle/Dulles and Cincinnati/DCA) as well as from Anchorage to Portland. I know many a Washingtonian who uses international options from these airports, seeing these places as not just shopping, entertainment or simply teaching the world to speak English in a crowded city. (That is not to say that Washingtonians do not travel to other places, because most definitely they do.)
So yes, if you are a travel writer, chances are you get to try some of the wonders beyond the Beltway. But for the rest of us, it is an idea of a world without frontiers, a wonderful place where – I think – travelers of all stripes can find something of value. We are a regional city, with no real national consciousness in travel planning, and we are deeply connected to the outside world in the types of travel that gets offered. We do have a presidential contender, but that’s different, and not much has changed regarding border crossings. Here are two things I learned about international travel from traveling the world in a weekend:
– Don’t stand in customs. It’s slow and it’s demoralizing. The arrival line may be longer than the flight delay, but it’s better to spend a little more time wading through customs — less hassle, at least. It’s likely to take the least amount of time and perhaps allow you to get on board before the final flight departure. Also consider that it is almost always the first arrivals and the folks who have been sitting at the gate a while longer who get the worst lines. A bit of extra time is probably required in customs to help them get situated before the lines are opened to the general public. But if you book ahead, have a good mix of airline tickets to choose from and get a good cross-country window/quint/crab-quint combination (particularly from what looks like the most popular domestic routes), it might be a good idea to wait in customs before you board your plane.
– Travel smarter. If you are going somewhere, and don’t know quite where you’re going, chances are that you’ll get in front of as many people as possible and ask if they know where you are. If they know and don’t tell you, then you’ll probably just end up waiting, and you’ll never see the place, or know enough of it to be interested. The most common one-state border crossing is between Atlanta and Opelika, Ala. There you meet if you like to drive, and if you don’t, there’s a big plaza with big stores that will make sure you get to where you’re going.
UPDATE: Having read this and following up with some inquiries, it turns out that my ignorance of customs is silly and my confusion in several instances is entirely innocent. It’s true that one has to wait at customs before boarding the plane, but you’re not necessarily in line before the immigration counter. If the official there looks up your international name, you should have no problem proceeding. If not, he may be able to assist you. While I can easily navigate through the customs lane to the international gate on the Atlanta-Opelika runway, my U.S. passport and visa required a more complicated passage. It looks like I made it, but it wasn’t easy, and being a fellow Washingtonian, I’m a little surprised.
Still, before I consider doing any more flying to or from any other foreign land, I probably should read about customs so that I know whether or not to try to fool around with anyone. As it stands now, I will not try.