THE EDITOR, Sir:
It had been a wonderful flight with Virgin Airlines' fabulous service but a long day of travel nonetheless, and my children and I were all rather looking forward to getting home on Wednesday, August 14, 2013.
Because of circumstances beyond our control, we had to fly in and out of Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay despite residing in Kingston.
On reaching the immigration area, a young man was checking papers and sending people in the required direction of the visitors' line, local residents' line, or to the tables to complete their paperwork. On showing our papers, he asked where the bottom of the immigration form was. I took the time to explain to him that we were local residents who had left the island on vacation and that we were now returning, so obviously, we did not have the bottom part because it is removed from the form upon departure from the island.
I did not think too much about it since he was simply trying to herd a lot of people into the correct lines as quickly as possible, and I do not recall if he was actually an immigration officer or not.
However, imagine my shock when I handed three passports and three immigration/customs C5 cards to a young female immigration officer, only to be asked the same thing!
Now I am not an immigration officer, but it is clear even to me, a member of the travelling public, that the departure record portion of the immigration form is always removed when one leaves the island. My daughter even learnt this as part of her grade six curriculum!
Even if in her own mind, she could not fathom that these three 'light-hued' individuals could really be local residents, I would have expected her to read the information neatly written on the form at #20 on the form indicating 'length of stay abroad (for residents of Jamaica)'.
This would have given her the information she required in a second, instead of rendering her incompetent. Her male supervisor even told me that in future when I travel, I must hold all passports open to the page showing the 'unconditional landing stamps'!
I have travelled in and out of this country (via Kingston) for the last 20 years, with 16 of those years having an unconditional landing stamp in my passport, and not once has any immigration officer in Kingston ever instructed me to hand him passports open at the page displaying this stamp.
On the contrary, I have ALWAYS been very warmly welcomed back home by immigration officers in Kingston! I have NEVER once been asked where the bottom of my immigration form is, and I have always had a competent and professional officer who could flick open the passport, spot the unconditional landing stamp with ease, stamp and sign the passport and bid me 'welcome home' in a prompt manner, which was far from the case in Montego Bay.
Having spoken to my in-laws, who use Sangster International far more frequently than I do, about our experience, they assured me that this was a normal scenario when they travelled!
Montego Bay immigration must do better! Officers must know their own forms they have trained with and be able to read the information written on them if in any doubt. Friendly customer service for locals, as well as tourists, should be a must. Officers should learn their national motto, 'Out of Many, One People', so they do not immediately make incorrect assumptions based on the appearance of arriving passengers to their desk.
This whole incident left a very sour taste in my mouth and I will do everything in my power to ensure that I NEVER travel through the Montego Bay airport ever again!