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Letter of the Day | Are J’can citizens not entitled to use Sangster International Airport?

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Letter of the Day | Are J’can citizens not entitled to use Sangster International Airport?


I live in Kingston and I am a frequent user, pre-COVID-19, of the Norman Manley International Airport. My experiences except for once, have been positive, whether I am departing or arriving. I have had to use Sangster International Airport, maybe six times, and at least four times, I have had really bad experiences upon my return.

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On all these occasions, the customs officers, who are all different seem to be having a bad day. Never mind, it is usually in the morning that I am using the airport and we ‘angry’ government workers tend to be antsy in the afternoon.

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My most recent unpleasant experience was earlier this year. I arrived in the Customs Hall, collected my luggage and proceeded to the “nothing to declare” line. My manners , honesty and people skills usually come alive whenever I am travelling. Simply because I do not have time for the drama, I just want to go my merry way!

When I got to the customs officer, she asked, “How long were you away and how much did you spend on shopping?” I told her 25 days and the amount I spent, which was less than the allotted US$500. I guess she immediately assumed that I am lying and without opening my suitcases, she directed me to “goods to be declared” line. I waited at least 45 minutes to be processed. During my wait, I noticed that all the visitors/tourists that came in on the flight had been processed and long gone and the “nothing to declare” line is almost empty.

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While waiting, a female customs officer signalled to me to come to the front of the line and waited there. At the time, I noticed that she was processing three other persons. I was actually of the opinion that another officer was going to process my “goods to be declared” and to slap me with the relevant cost associated with the items. After she processed the persons, she said to me, “Why you suitcases not up on the table and open?” I totally forgot about my people skills, so I responded, “How would I know that since that was not your instruction to me?”

ITEMS FELL TO THE GROUND I complied and she began the process of searching my suitcases, I guess she was quite annoyed because I really had nothing to declare. In her frantic search for goods to be declared, she came across a laptop and an extra cell phone, which belongs to my workplace. After all, the new norm is “working from home”, therefore, I could be in Timbuktu and still keep my job, thank you COVID-19!

She got upset and asked, “What are these for?” I told her they are my work tools. She responded, “I should write them up, but I won’t.” I said to her, go ahead and write them up, if you see the need to do so. I will simply tell my director that Customs have them. After all, its one Government entity that would be dealing with the other!

During her search, many items fell to the ground, (including my underwear and masks), items hitting the counter hard, a glass bottle with liquid, chimed on the impact of the metal and she said, “Lawd God, a whe me a bruk.” After her search, she asked for my passport and walked back to her computer. All my suitcases were left open, I enquired if she was done and if so, is it okay for me to close my suitcases, her response was “yes”.

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My questions to the Commissioner of customs are:

1. Are Jamaican citizens not entitled to use the Sangster International Airport?

2. What kind of customer service training are these officers getting?

3. Are the officers trained to be hostile to citizens and welcoming to visitors?

4. Are Jamaican citizens not entitled to take back items from overseas?

Based on my observations, visitors were not subjected to the treatment that I got. When I relate my experience to other Jamaicans who have used Sangster International Airport, they have had similar experiences.

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Are we second-class citizens in our own country? Why is it visitors can go to the “nothing to declare line”, processed and be released. However, that courtesy is not extended to Jamaicans who genuinely have nothing to declare! I have been to several other countries and observed that citizens are usually welcomed home. Is it that the customs officers at Sangster only care about tourists and putting on a fake accent for them?

As a proud Jamaican citizen, I am sick and tired of inhumane treatments from my fellow countrymen. Most of us do not ask for much, all we need is a little of the RESPECT that is shown to the visitors.

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