The weird “Customs” in Mexico

A couple of years ago, I made a business trip to Mexico where I came across one of the weirdest airport customs procedure seen till date. Mexico City airport is an airport of the 1960s. A zig zag narrow way got the passengers to a long immigration line where immigration and customs forms were lying all around. It was Saturday evening and hall was overflowing with people.

Necessary questions answered and passport stamped, I headed to the baggage belt to collect my bag which was already around – thanks to the long time which immigration formalities took. Next step? Customs green channel, but it was nowhere to be found! Looking around for green channel, I stumbled upon a line which was formed near each baggage belt and facing the exits. I quickly joined one.

The lines were moving slowly and there were two uniformed officers standing at a distance inviting passengers one at a time and asking them to press a button which would turn the light green and the passenger would walk off with his bag. Interesting game? Not really, this was the mexico customs officials. I waited out for my turn in the queue, patiently. Everyone ahead of me had a green light and the result was same when I pressed it as well. I was out of the airport after a smile and a thank you to the customs team.

But this system left me wondering. I asked my business contacts and searched online to understand that this system, heavily criticized, was known as traffic lights amongst travelers. The randomness of selection of passengers for checking based on the light and not profiling or scanners has been the point of criticism from international bodies or travelers. What more? The customs department can control the frequency at which the light turns red depending on the traffic at airport. Probably you are better off reaching at time of congestion than at a time when there are more officers per traveler and they want to check more bags taking up your valuable time.

Just before writing this, I asked google if this system is still active and learnt that it is being phased out gradually. A pilot project at Terminal 2 of Mexico City airport has been successful and would soon be implemented country wide. The replacement is the globally accepted practice of scanning baggage on arrival and then having the bags on belt before the passenger can claim those and move out of Green and Red channels.

Head to Mexico if you want to experience this randomness, till it lasts.

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