The itineary was long but pretty straightforward. Leave Toronto 5:45pm EST Jan 17, arrive LAX 8:15pm PST. Depart LAX 10:20pm, arrive Sydney 7:30am Aussie time Jan 19. Leave Sydney 9:40am arrive Melbourne 11:20am. No close connections, and I got to Toronto airport early at 4pm. What could go wrong?
The only possible issue was that due to a set of strange circumstances from last year I had more than 10K in AUD cash on me. Normally I avoid traveling with cash whenver possible (and carrying cash on my person at all for that matter) and just wire money ahead, but getting raped on exchanging the money into CAD or USD and then back into AUD is stupid when I can just carry the cash at no cost. For those of you who have never carried large amounts of cash across the border the whole thing is pretty easy. You tick the box to declare it on your customs card. They take you to secondary inspection and ask you some questions which you answer truthfully and you fill out some extra paperwork for the money. Maybe if you're unlucky they search your bags. The whole thing should never really take more than an extra 30 minutes worst case scenario.
So I stroll into US customs 90 minutes before my flight knowing even with all the silly new US flight regulations I have heaps of time. The first sign of something weird is when the customs agent sees I've ticked yes to the currency question, she asks if I've already declared it with Canadian customs. I'm confused by the question and answer that I have not since I'm starting my trip here. I proceed to the secondary inspection room and there are way more people than I've ever seen in there. I hand them my card then have to sit for 5 minutes before they call my name. I roll my bags up to the desk with a male agent this time and again the first thing they ask is if I have declared my money with Canadian customs already? Again confused, I reply that I have not. He informs me that I was supposed to file the paperwork with them before I got to US customs. I ask how recently this change in procedure was implemented. He informs me that it's always been that way.
It has not always been that way. It's *possible* that it was always technically supposed to have been enforced that way, but it certainly never has been in the past. After a couple more questions he passes me the standard US currency form and says he's going to call Canadian customs and explain the situation, try to get someone to come up from there. He informs me further that I will have to fill out the paperwork again in LA saying I'm taking the money out of the country this time. The absurdity of this rule is somewhat mind-blowing. He says I will have to find US customs in LA and fill out the paper work. First of all, I have no idea how to find US customs in LA. Would they even let me back there since I'm already legally in their fucking country? I'm certain that if I ask someone this in LA they will look at me like I'm retarded. Obviously the same thing applies to finding Canadian customs in Toronto like I was "supposed to". And what happens when driving across the border? Is this a flying-only regulation? It really doesn't make sense, maybe US and Canadian customs could just try communicating the information with each other instead?
I fill out the paperwork and he is able to get a Canadian agent to come with their paperwork. He informs me that technically Canadian customs is allowed to seize the money since I came to US customs first but that there shouldn't be a problem. He was actually very friendly the whole time and he and the agent next to him made a bunch of remarks about how ridiculous so many of the policies they have to follow are, but as they are merely "peons" they just follow the rules. The funniest part was when converting the AUD into USD he got a number greater than the number in AUD. Obviously he immediately recognized this could not be right, but after double checking regulations he just left it that way saying it's obviously wrong but that's how he was told to do it and what does he care really. It's fairly likely this was still his mistake actually but either way I got a good laugh out of it.
Two Canadian customs agents arrive, I fill out their paperwork and they want to see/count the money for some reason. They leave, the US guy does the quickest, least thorough "search of my bags" in history and waves me along finally. This whole procedure took quite a while however and I am in big time trouble and there is a decent chance I may miss my flight. Luckily there is basically no line at security. There is one guy in front of me and one guy who already went through and is having his carry-on checked. This proceeds to last several minutes though as I am sitting there enraged about the possibility of missing my flight. I know it will likely move back my itinerary an entire day if I do unless I can catch another flight to LA in the next hour or so, which may not even exist. I finally get through security with no hiccups and start running for my gate. I stop running about 5 seconds later when I see the secondary search point, now standard for any flight to the US since the events over the holidays, and the lengthy queue waiting there. I am so fucked. My flight is scheduled to takeoff in less than 15 minutes so boarding may be almost over already, and it will take at least that long to get through this line. I'm just praying my flight is delayed at this point, though this seems a very reasonable hope knowing Air Canada.
Salvation: A lady with a walkie-talkie calls my name. "Is there a Mr.Watson traveling to LA in this line?". I raise my hand and go to her and now I am in the front of the queue. Now they know I am here and won't leave without me. That was too close. In their thorough search at the security checkpoint they obviously find my cash (and would have even if I'd tried to hide it so don't bother). I tell them I've declared it. They ask for proof and I tell them that's not how it works, I don't have any. Your job is security for the flight not customs I already went through those and that's why I'm late you idiot (obviously I only actually said the that's why I'm late part). Though I can't blame them for wanting to be sure. Now I stand there another 5 minutes at least as someone runs to customs to double check on me. Fan-fucking-tastic. Also, they had the cash out in plain view for some of this. Clearly no one else in the line was on my flight at this point but show some fucking discretion buddy. I mean the airport is a pretty safe place obviously but seriously use some common sense.
Finally the runner comes back and confirms it's all good, the nice lady with the walkie-talkie points me to my gate and I run there even though they are clearly waiting for me and it's only like the 3rd gate down. I get on the plane, and everyone is already in their seats looking annoyed with me. OK maybe I imagined that part. But I made my flight, and due to favbourable winds we arrived on time in LA anyways. I was still going to be off to Australia that night. Or so I thought.
Check back soon for Part 2: United Strikes Back.