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“I Walked Right Through US Customs From Italy. No One Asked Me Anything”

“I Walked Right Through US Customs From Italy. No One Asked Me Anything”

Well, this is concerning news.

A Vice News Producer who returned to the United States through JFK Airport from Italy on Thursday, March 5th says that she “walked right through US customs. They didn’t ask me where in Italy I went or if I came into contact with sick people. They didn’t ask me anything.”

If Julia Lindau had been asked any questions at customs, they may have discovered that she was a reporter that had just spent time in Milan and Lombardy–the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak for Vice News.

Not the Only One

There have been several reports of passengers transiting through the United States from red zones freely. On March 4th, another woman also landed in New York City (it’s unclear which airport) after a trip to Italy–she also traveled to the Milan and Lombardy regions–while feeling “quite sick” with a fever and a productive, deep upper respiratory cough.

No one questioned her upon landing. She reported her symptoms to the CDC herself to see if she should be cleared to take her connecting flight to Florida or quarantined. She was cleared and told that her symptoms didn’t make her a travel risk. When she landed in Florida, she was tested for COVID-19 and tested positive.

“No one sounded prepared. No one at the CDC sounded prepared or educated on what was going on. When talking about an outbreak in Milan, Italy, I think they should know what part of the country that’s in,” the woman (who wished to remain anonymous) told Fox 13.

JFK took another hit on March 12th when another passenger’s Tweet went viral. This time, they traveled through the airport from Paris:

Several other travelers have shared similar experiences when traveling through customs. These reports come on the heels of the White House’s 30-day ban on travel from Europe (with the notable exclusion of the UK). Want more information on travel and the coronavirus? Check out FlyerTalk’s dedicated, constantly-updated page on all things Coronavirus/COVID-19.


[Image: Customs and Border Patrol]

View Comments (26)


  1. FoodShooter

    March 11, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    This happened to me, Jan 31 ICN-ATL, despite me being in China & HK and only connecting in Seoul, no one in ATL asked me a thing after direct flights into USA had already been suspended from mainland China. To say I was surprised would be an understatement.

  2. bostontraveler

    March 11, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    This is what we can an uncoordinated response. In normal countries there would be medical staff taking temperatures and providing information.

  3. rylan

    March 11, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    And, if we have cases in NYC airports and wherever that pax went to in Florida, we know why.
    Letting people in from Level3 zones without any testing or quarantine is just dumb.

  4. IBobi


    March 11, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    Someone is asleep at the wheel.

  5. drvannostren

    March 11, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    What a ridiculous situation being caused and furthered by the government. If you self report to the CDC and they STILL say you’re not a risk by flying…then the whole system is broken. The CDC should 100% be telling that person to self quarantine based on age/risks etc. They shouldn’t have any answers to “who’s gonna pay” or “what do i do about my job” etc. That’s not the CDC’s concern. If NO ONE else in the system is prepared…the CDC should be. They’re totally botching it so now it’s just a waiting game, the people who are gonna die are gonna die, those who aren’t at risk will get sick and we’ll all move on like we do with the regular flu. If you’re not gonna quarantine someone from a hot zone who is self reporting…the whole system is a joke.

  6. Shareholder

    March 11, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    Arrived @ORD at the end of February off a flight from NRT and had been in Seoul for five days prior to Tokyo. Upon my arrival into ICN and NRT there were signs directing all arriving passengers off flights from China/HKG or holding Chinese/HK passports into a different section of immigration. All of us had to walk through temperature scanners before dealing with visas, etc. I used a Global Entry kiosk @ORD and there was no question posted on the screen asking if we’d visited or were arriving at any “at risk” countries. The GE agent at the entry to the baggage area asked nothing about where I had come from (though the kiosk screen did show the inbound flight and might have been a warning). However, upon arrival @YYZ (my home airport) using a NEXUS kiosk, the first question that appeared was about having visited any affect country. I arrived @ORD on JL, but noticed landing after us were two Chinese mainland airline planes so not sure if those passengers were directed to a separate isolated area of immigration.

  7. glob99

    March 11, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Was the scanner surface of the GE kiosk cleaned between uses?

  8. Fonsini

    March 12, 2020 at 3:38 am

    Well it’s certainly fixed as of Friday, but I expect VICE will now be whining about excessively draconian travel restrictions.

  9. MaxVO


    March 12, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    @Fonsini — very perceptive, and not limited to VICE. Lots of posters here on FT are now spewing venom toward the pandemic containment efforts.

  10. wimrunner

    March 12, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    It doesn’t matter anymore. The virus entered the US weeks ago from Asia, so it will spread. Just keep everyone indoors instead of taking crazy actions like blocking travel completely.

  11. gkbiiii

    March 13, 2020 at 5:18 am

    Yet many would sooner die, than give President Trump’s administration, positive credit for anything!

  12. SilverJack

    March 13, 2020 at 5:34 am

    I find it funny that people are upset that the “government” has let them down; but not angry towards those who boast about entering the US from a known virus zone. You knew there was a travel warning, but you chose to travel anyway. You knew you were sick, but you got on a plane and then entered the US. You put everyone at risk, then decided the best action was to post “I got away with it” on various forums. Well, thank you Typhoid Mary and Marty, job well done.
    The “government” has done it’s best to inform people and allow for self regulation. But that’s not good enough, we want dictatorship like they have in China. We want full body cavity searches and quarantine. Well, thanks to all the people who willingly disregard the advisories, that’s what we are going to get.

  13. dhturk

    March 13, 2020 at 5:56 am

    Technically, that’s a picture of Passport Control. They’re the ones that ask the questions.

  14. cashmccall

    March 13, 2020 at 6:21 am

    March 10th, walked right through DC from South Korea and also nothing. I was transit through Korea but still nothing. Even read where Korean Air was making sure all passengers were not sick when boarding….nothing. I thought I would face more screening and questions.

  15. Berry

    March 13, 2020 at 6:42 am

    I returned from Rome/Sicily on Alitalia night of March 4 and zero checks at JFK. I was traveling with 15 others, who returned to other US airports–Logan, Denver, Atlanta, etc., and no checks. We had spent a week watching CNN’s reports and expected massive delays in flights and screening. At least in Rome a flight attendant who took my boarding pass asked if I’d been in China or Korea. From comments above, looks like zero checks lasted beyond March 4. Are they doing them now at JFK?

  16. caljn

    March 13, 2020 at 6:53 am

    drvannostren, government is only as good as the people who run it. If you believe “government is the problem” please leave…you will be doing your fellow citizens a favor.

  17. vargha

    March 13, 2020 at 9:08 am

    Government IS only as good as the people who run it. And no, the average citizen doesn’t run it despite the myth that we are somehow still a representative republic. The failures of government are monumental and widespread throughout history. Which is why I am puzzled by the pleas for the government to do something more. They don’t even do well what is on their plate now.

  18. NonnaGoes

    March 13, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Look. When the president openly states that he doesn’t want testing—even for his own, old, obese, unhealthy and multiple confirmed exposure self because he wants people to “feel” safe, a mess is guaranteed.

    We will have an epidemic in this country and we are unprepared for it. All any of us can do is to maintain best practices.

  19. pulokk1

    March 13, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Past failures are not an excuse for botching this one., or whining about how the government messes up everything. According to leading epidemiologists interviewed on national media outlets, state and federal bureaucracies displayed no recognition of the imminent crisis. A key example is how they clung to pre-existing red-tape rules to block test-kit development.

    As a career (local) government employee I can attest to how bureaucracies get entrenched. It takes strong, flexible leadership to shake up the rules and the staff to approach problems with more creativity.

    …and we don’t have that at the top right now.

  20. alphaod

    March 13, 2020 at 10:11 am

    If you’re Asian they don’t ask. All the Asian people I know got questioned when they arrived.

  21. alphaod

    March 13, 2020 at 10:12 am

    *not Asian

  22. vargha

    March 13, 2020 at 10:57 am

    pulokk1, government hasn’t had it in my lifetime. It was no different under Obama, or Bush or Clinton, or . . .

    The nature of bureaucracy is to protect itself first, and at all costs. You already see private industry nimbly scrambling to come up with solutions while the government bureaucracy slogs through the red-tape and overly-cumbersome processes that it, itself has established.

    Thanks, but no thanks. You, I fear, are too deeply entrenched and invested in the system to see that the system is the problem; not that the system just needs a better leader.

  23. caljn

    March 13, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    vargha: Ah yes, the alleged magic of the free market. Unfortunately, as we’re seeing now, the free market does not account for the collateral damage that occurs while the free market sorts itself out.

  24. ftoader

    March 13, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    Went to Barcelona on Feb. 25th via Detroit and Paris and came back on March 3rd via Amsterdam and Detroit. Nowhere during this journey was any screening. In Amsterdam before boarding I was asked if I was in China or Iran during the last month. Arriving in Detroit was the easiest pass-thru passports and customs I have ever done. I use Global Entry and all it did is to take a pic of me and spit out a receipt, no questions asked. The custom asked “what are you bringing home buddy?” and I said “Just dirty laundry” and that was it. I was on my way to the next flight home. Honestly, it seemed weird how easy this trip went. Plus I had no one next to me or in front of me on the flights to Amsterdam and to Detroit on my way back. The most important, 10 days later I have no symptoms and fingers crossed will stay that way. Use proper hand hygiene everyone, it works.

  25. SamirD

    March 13, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    If china wanted to destroy the US, they did it. We’re a bunch of clowns that are going to die. Almost everyone in the world has done better than us at tackling this challenge. I feel ashamed to be associated with the Americans in charge of this debacle. Oh well, the chinese will swoop in their billions and buy the whole world pennies on the dollar after this ‘accidental’ global mess…

  26. QT31415

    March 13, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    Same, end of Feb, from Milan. Daaughter just got back from 3 weeks in italy and france, walked right through via the global entry kiosks at SEA, no temps, screening, quarantine or masks on anyone. She said it was business as usual, only without the crowds.

  27. dsellens

    March 14, 2020 at 11:05 am

    I see a couple of things here. All the travel bans, even the China one, had exclusions for US citizens. So there was no real reason for anyone to ask questions of anyone with a US passport because there was no authorization to do anything about it. Yes, Trump issued a travel ban from China early on. BUT, he had disbanded the Pandemic group in the NSC that had the knowledge and experience to know how to properly write the order and then execute it. So what you are hearing in these forums is that total lack of expertise and thus incomplete and ineffective execution. When the smoke clears, it will be interesting to hear from the former members of that Pandemic group to hear about what plans they had created to handle a Pandemic that this administration had no clue even existed and/or, in the early phases chose to ignore. In the most recent press conference, Trump said he had no knowledge about the Pandemic group being disbanded. This was a lie. A month or more ago he said that the people in the group hadn’t done in anything is a long time so they were a waste of resources, he further said that if needed, they could get people back, good people, if and when they are needed, so it was not necessary to have these wasted resources. So even if they got the same people back, which is unlikely, they would be 2 years+ out of date and out of mind with what they had done, who they would need to contact, etc.

    I will lay odds that the Pandemic group had produced multiple 500 page documents on how to handle various types of pandemics, that was their job. So when new people could be found and put in place, even if they could find those docs, then it would take precious days, if not a couple of weeks for them to review those docs, determine which ones were appropriate to implement before they could even start doing anything effective. Since those docs would be at least 2 years out of date, even if they had contact information at the various companies and agencies, those contacts would likely be obsolete. Thus if you have ever had the need to find the right person in an agency to talk to, then you know it can easily take hours of phone calls just to get to the right person that has the authority to act for each entity that needs contacted. This all adds up to weeks of delay because Trump disbanded the group.

    I could go on, but at this point we all just need to step back and take a breath. We need to move forward from where we are. It seems clear to me that they never found the pandemic plans that already existed so they are making this up as they go. It sounds like they are slowly getting to where the Pandemic group at the NSC would have had them at from the very beginning. So we have no choice to trust that going forward things will get better. Trump, or should I say Pence, has finally gotten some intelligent people around him to create plans that make some sense. We will see if they can and will be executed in a timely manner. Remember, Trump and all of those with him in that recent press conference, never gave a single clue as to when any of the mentioned plans will be in place.

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