Leave that fruit on the plane: TPG travel mistake story

Jan 12, 2020

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We are continuing to share the TPG staff’s travel triumphs and (occasional!) failures to help our readers maximise their travel. This week, our family expert Kathleen Porter Kristiansen shares how a simple mistake turned into month of travel difficulties.

“On a trip alone with my son, then just over 1 year old, I packed a bag of snacks for him for our flight as usual from Nassau, Bahamas to visit friends in Washington, D.C. We flew through Miami using our U.S. passports, and when we went through immigration I suddenly remembered I had an orange in my son’s bag, The immigration officer said it wasn’t an issue if I declared it on the form. So, I declared “one U.S.-grown orange” on my form.

Suddenly, my son and I were detained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the next hour for bringing citrus into the United States. I tried to repeat that it was an accident and the immigration office told me to declare it. But in the end, I was happy to throw it away.

We were released after several firm lectures from different officers about bringing foreign plants, seeds, fruit and vegetables into the United States. It seemed the scare was over.

However, a black mark of sorts had been placed against my name in the United States by the U.S. Food and Agriculture department and I was subjected to additional screenings of all of my luggage after immigration for the next nine months. An immigration officer confirmed this once after I asked why I kept getting post-immigration screenings. He asked, “Did you ever smuggle fruit into the United States?” Ugh, the orange!

Lesson learned: if you bring food and veg on board for snacks, it cannot leave the plane. I now leave our entire snack bag on board just in case.”

Kathleen’s mistake is a good one for all travellers to remember, no matter what your final destination is. Be sure to do your customs research in advance if you’re going to a new destination to see what is and is not allowed in. In most cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

In 2018, a woman was fined $500 by U.S. Customs for trying to bring an apple into the country. The fine was eventually dropped, but the same message remains: leave your fruit on the plane!

Featured image by Gettys Images

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