Was There A Smuggler On My US-Bound Flight?

Was There A Smuggler On My US-Bound Flight?

39

I witnessed something on a flight yesterday afternoon that almost seemed like it was straight out of a movie (or “Locked Up Abroad,” only the opposite), and I’m not sure what exactly to make of it. I’m curious if any OMAAT readers can help satisfy my curiosity. Let’s work backwards.

Our international flight was met on arrival

Yesterday Ford and I flew from Queretaro, Mexico (QRO) to Dallas (DFW) on American Eagle, American Airlines’ regional carrier. We had to clear US immigration on arrival, so after a routine flight we pulled into a gate at the international “D” concourse at DFW.

Departing Queretaro Airport

Everyone stood up when the seatbelt sign went off. When the door opened, the flight attendant had a word with someone on the jet bridge, and a moment later an announcement was made for everyone to be seated. He then paged a passenger by name, asking her to proceed to the front of the plane with all of her belongings.

She was seated behind us (we were in the back of first class, and she was in the front of economy). She walked off the plane immediately (we couldn’t tell who was on the other side of the door), and 30 seconds later everyone else was told they could deplane.

To set the scene, I’d estimate the woman was maybe 25-30 years old, she had an American accent and a US passport, and she had very expensive things, or at least that’s what Ford tells me (we’re talking a $4,000 handbag, etc.). When she was paged, she walked off calmly and quickly, almost as if she knew someone was waiting for her.

There’s a bit more to the story

Over my millions of miles of flying, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen immigration officers meet a plane and look for a specific person, and this very much felt like that. But here’s the interesting backstory — the passenger who was removed from the plane stood out to us before all of this happened.

She was in the Priority Pass lounge at Queretaro Airport right next to us, and she was talking to two other people who I had assumed were traveling with her or were her friends. Best I could tell the friends weren’t on our flight, but it’s possible that they had traveled together and took different flights home.

Priority Pass lounge Queretaro Airport

The point at which it got strange was during boarding. She was talking on her phone (using AirPods, so she probably didn’t realize how loud she was), and since she was seated right behind us, it was hard not to hear part of her call. She was telling someone on the other end to “transfer money,” in a way that sounded like business (as opposed to asking a family member for money, for example).

We had become friendly with the woman seated across from us, and in the immigration hall the woman said to us (without prompting), “she was talking about money,” so she heard the same thing we did.

I’d be willing to bet with 99% certainty she wasn’t just getting some VIP transfer (especially given the tone of the flight attendant asking her to come to the front of the plane with her belongings). But what explanations does that leave?

Immigration sometimes gets tipped off on things, so what are they looking for? Usually they’re looking for people who aren’t legally allowed to enter the country, people who are smuggling (drugs, large quantities of currencies, counterfeit or luxury goods, etc.), people with warrants out for their arrest, people who are human trafficking, etc.

She had a US passport, so presumably this wasn’t about her right to enter the country. She also appeared to be traveling alone, so I don’t think she was trafficking anyone. The whole “transfer the money” phone call after she boarded her flight to the United States sure suggests to me it may be one of those other reasons.

Bottom line

Someone was met on arrival on my American Airlines flight from Mexico to the United States yesterday, and I sure am curious what was going on. What makes this so interesting to me is the call we overheard after boarding about her requesting someone transfer money, which I wouldn’t have thought much about if it weren’t for what happened on arrival. But then it clicked, and made the whole situation even stranger.

Anyone have any theories as to what was going on here? I assume there’s not a way to look up arrests that happened at DFW on a particular day?

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  1. NotASmuggler Guest

    Seriously, lay off Netflix this holiday season…

  2. matthewKlint New Member

    VIPs not I enough do end up in coach I traveled beside one who complainded the first hour of the flight to Hong Kong about his SWU "not processing".

  3. Ben Guest

    A few years ago, I was on a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Beijing. The flight was normal and uneventful. When we arrived at the gate in Beijing, they made an announcement that due to "security reasons" we needed to stay seated. Then two policemen came onto the plane and escorted a man off the plane, after which we were allowed to deboard as normal. It was so strange and I have no idea what...

    A few years ago, I was on a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Beijing. The flight was normal and uneventful. When we arrived at the gate in Beijing, they made an announcement that due to "security reasons" we needed to stay seated. Then two policemen came onto the plane and escorted a man off the plane, after which we were allowed to deboard as normal. It was so strange and I have no idea what that was about. The colleagues I was travelling with also had no clue why the man was taken off the plane.

  4. Karl John May Guest

    I’ve experienced this many times. DOESN’T AT ALL MEAN IT WAS A SMUGGLER. It could have been somebody who was found to have arrived from a 4th level Covid country the day before, flouting US rules. Or somebody who had a family emergency that was called into the airline. Or someone whose visa might have had an issue. Even someone whose connecting international flight was waiting mode her. And so on. A smuggler? Maybe. But...

    I’ve experienced this many times. DOESN’T AT ALL MEAN IT WAS A SMUGGLER. It could have been somebody who was found to have arrived from a 4th level Covid country the day before, flouting US rules. Or somebody who had a family emergency that was called into the airline. Or someone whose visa might have had an issue. Even someone whose connecting international flight was waiting mode her. And so on. A smuggler? Maybe. But this kind of thing happens all the time. Nothing special.

  5. Donna Diamond

    I’ve seen people escorted off flights without the paging. I once sat next to the late Ray Charles on a domestic flight and he was not paged but escorted off the plane first. The paging, particularly the part about “taking your belongings,” doesn’t sound like a VIP situation. I agree with Ben’s assessment.

  6. Teixeira Guest

    Not surprised,
    A few years ago on a flight to South America we had to wait until a Lady was called to the front to be met by local authorities.She was accused of going thru 3 different Ladies carry on bags and took wallets, jewelry etc.

  7. Rick Guest

    If she can afford a $4k handbag she can afford a first class ticket

    A spy novel is born !

    And I listen carefully to conversations on Intl flights too …

  8. Andy 11235 Guest

    Right... if law enforcement suspects something, they wait for the suspect to deplane. They don't make an announcement politely asking them to kindly come to the front. As united airlines showed the world, arrests on planes are messy and to be avoided.

    My guess would be some sort of VIP need (diplomatic, business, etc.).

  9. steven kapellas Guest

    As a retired Customs Special Agent, she was getting a VIP escort. First, immigration did not meet her. It was an Officer from Customs and Border Protection who are cross trained in both immigration and customs. Been that way since 2003. Second, if CBP was looking for her, we would have got her from the plane. We are not going to rely on the passenger to get all of their belongings and bring them to...

    As a retired Customs Special Agent, she was getting a VIP escort. First, immigration did not meet her. It was an Officer from Customs and Border Protection who are cross trained in both immigration and customs. Been that way since 2003. Second, if CBP was looking for her, we would have got her from the plane. We are not going to rely on the passenger to get all of their belongings and bring them to us on an honor system. We go and get them to make sure nothing is left behind to avoid an internal conspiracy among a dirty employee or the fact the aircraft will do a quick turn. Most Mexican smuggling attempts are via the land border with the money going to Mexico not coming in. CBP only cares if you are transporting more than 10,000 USD.

    1. Uncle Coffee Guest

      Some years ago I experienced exactly this on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt into Newark. Upon arrival while taxiing to the gate the captain announced that everyone is required to remain seated until instructed differently and that US officials will enter the plane to execute an activity. When we arrived at the three officers boarded the plane and escorted one person out. Another person (German) went to the lavatory during this action - big mistake,...

      Some years ago I experienced exactly this on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt into Newark. Upon arrival while taxiing to the gate the captain announced that everyone is required to remain seated until instructed differently and that US officials will enter the plane to execute an activity. When we arrived at the three officers boarded the plane and escorted one person out. Another person (German) went to the lavatory during this action - big mistake, they took this person as well. Nice welcome to the US. (US readers won’t be surprised but in Germany the officer would be in trouble, not the person.)

      Annoyingly that action took more than 30min and I missed my connecting flight.

    2. Norm Guest

      100% it was not VIP. Can't say anything else.

  10. Luis Guest

    There are many reasons to segregate a passenger from the rest. It could be VIP treatment, it could be that a family member had a health issue, her connecting flight has been delayed, she’s a diplomat, etc, etc.

    If she were a non U.S. Citizen, I would assume she’s a TWOV (transit without visa) and they require security escort when transiting via the US.

  11. John Sully Guest

    Probably just VIP treatment. Many wealthy Mexicans have dual US/Mexican citizenship. In these uncertain times in Mexico/LA there is high concern to get money into safe US accounts.

  12. Creditcrunch Gold

    I have seen this happen on European flights when a passenger has a tight connection and asks the crew if they can be off first, in fact I have been in club Europe and crew have moved some passengers into empty seats just before starting the arrival so they can quickly get off the aircraft.

    1. bob Guest

      Did a bot write this "article" or is it the joke it reads?

    2. Vito Guest

      But it is true. Happened to me on Swiss.

  13. Stuart Guest

    This was a VIP transfer. Law enforcement would not have had her come forward as they did. They would have come to the seat with no warning and removed her and her belongings from there.

    We see this quite often at Dulles on International flights.

  14. ryan Guest

    Weird. I was on a flight from Oaxaca, Mexico to DFW yesterday and someone was on the plane with a pair of scissors. First time I've seen this happened. One flight attendant got the scissors from a person in coach (I was in business), the other flight attendant did the security thing where they put the food cart in front of the galley to block it off, took the scissors, called the pilot saying "We...

    Weird. I was on a flight from Oaxaca, Mexico to DFW yesterday and someone was on the plane with a pair of scissors. First time I've seen this happened. One flight attendant got the scissors from a person in coach (I was in business), the other flight attendant did the security thing where they put the food cart in front of the galley to block it off, took the scissors, called the pilot saying "We got em," and the captain came out and took them.

    Guess that security in Mexico is really top notch.

    1. Perez Guest

      Yet another ignorant comment. Have you read about the number of times TSA has failed security tests?

  15. Ray Guest

    No reason to assume she was. If it were law enforcement, then they’d have come *to* her at her seat.

    But that does beg the question why she’d be paged like that. VIP transfer for an economy passenger? In Dallas?

  16. snic Diamond

    I am baffled as to why you think she wasn't a VIP. Expensive handbag, business calls about transferring money, an invitation to disembark first with everyone else remaining seated, being personally escorted away from the plane, and her calm behavior when she disembarked, as if she were used to/expected this treatment - it all fits. The single thing that doesn't fit is the flight attendant's tone when she made the announcement, and that is very...

    I am baffled as to why you think she wasn't a VIP. Expensive handbag, business calls about transferring money, an invitation to disembark first with everyone else remaining seated, being personally escorted away from the plane, and her calm behavior when she disembarked, as if she were used to/expected this treatment - it all fits. The single thing that doesn't fit is the flight attendant's tone when she made the announcement, and that is very shaky evidence at best. The FA might have just been having a bad day or whatever.

    1. David Diamond

      Yeah, if the FA had a tone I'd imagine it was more like "This rich ******* is wasting my time and making me get off work even later".

    2. SpaceSpiff Guest

      Or it could be that it was AA, so that’s their default mode.

    3. Ray Guest

      I thought the same but then I was thinking if she was a VIP the arrangements would have been made prior to takeoff and the FA would have been alerted of procedure. Announcement made to stay seated, call her by name, let her exit, then allow the rest of plane off.

      But I am not jumping to the conclusion she was a smuggler. I go along with others saying she would have been met...

      I thought the same but then I was thinking if she was a VIP the arrangements would have been made prior to takeoff and the FA would have been alerted of procedure. Announcement made to stay seated, call her by name, let her exit, then allow the rest of plane off.

      But I am not jumping to the conclusion she was a smuggler. I go along with others saying she would have been met at her seat and escorted off. I think @Lucky is using a little bias since he was in Mexico. If this happened on a flight from Vancouver for example, would he jump to the same conclusion?

  17. Todd Guest

    Seems odd that law enforcement would expect a suspect to respond to such a page promptly and without drama. Given that she was eager to respond makes me wonder if she had payed for AAs Five star service.

    In contrast I used to fly DFW-LHR frequently on BA and on two occasions we were instructed to have our passports out for law enforcement as we exited the aircraft. One of these times they had...

    Seems odd that law enforcement would expect a suspect to respond to such a page promptly and without drama. Given that she was eager to respond makes me wonder if she had payed for AAs Five star service.

    In contrast I used to fly DFW-LHR frequently on BA and on two occasions we were instructed to have our passports out for law enforcement as we exited the aircraft. One of these times they had the individuals in custody before I left the aircraft, I don’t know what that charge was in either case but always suspected if it wasn’t a credit card theft.

  18. Josh Guest

    This is comical. There could be 1000 reasons that she was paged that have nothing to do with smuggling drugs.

  19. Clem Platinum

    I'm a little surprised they would page a passenger like that, instead of just going to talk to them directly? They know where everyone is sitting...

  20. Sel, D. Guest

    So how was the Rosewood? I really hope you ate at Atrio! SMA is pretty awesome. And I hope you don’t bother reviewing that “lounge” at QRO.

  21. Erik Guest

    I bet people can't wait to sit next to you this thanksgiving

  22. Hobbs Guest

    Ridiculous assumption. Not a smuggler. They are putting passengers and flight crew in danger with that method of apprehension should that person become uncooperative. Also, authorities would want to ensure a smuggler collects all of their belongings. If I know I’m caught, I’m not reaching for my carry on.

  23. Benny Guest

    I’ve watched many episodes of To Catch a Smuggler. Some times they get a tip about a passenger so they go to the gate when it arrives. But on the show they ask everyone questions and checks passport while keeping an eye out for the target. But in this case I guess they were more direct.

  24. Izz Guest

    Let’s get to the real reason of the flight.. was it to go back to the capital one lounge?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Izz -- Hah, I was in San Miguel de Allende for the weekend, and QRO and BJX are the closest airports.

    2. Izz Guest

      Oh I heard about that place, hope you reviewed where you stayed and how you felt about the area as a destination.

      I hear from many it is beautiful but also feels like you see more Americans than locals there.

    3. Timo Gold

      I was just recently in San Miguel too. Took the DFW to QRO flight...damn that's a long drive from the airport to SMA!

  25. Hokland Guest

    Shouldn’t you just ask people to speak up, so that you can better listen in on their private conversation. Not speaking up is being rude to you!

    1. LarryInNYC New Member

      Not sure I'd consider a conversation conducted at high volume in a public space to be "private".

  26. Andy Guest

    Happened to me twice inbound to the US. It was during COVID time and I was entering the country on a national interest waiver. All the CBP officer did was escort me to an empty booth, verified my travel history, stamped my passport there and off I went. I was told that process had to be carried out by a more senior officer and they simply didn’t want me to get lost in line.

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Erik Guest

I bet people can't wait to sit next to you this thanksgiving

7
steven kapellas Guest

As a retired Customs Special Agent, she was getting a VIP escort. First, immigration did not meet her. It was an Officer from Customs and Border Protection who are cross trained in both immigration and customs. Been that way since 2003. Second, if CBP was looking for her, we would have got her from the plane. We are not going to rely on the passenger to get all of their belongings and bring them to us on an honor system. We go and get them to make sure nothing is left behind to avoid an internal conspiracy among a dirty employee or the fact the aircraft will do a quick turn. Most Mexican smuggling attempts are via the land border with the money going to Mexico not coming in. CBP only cares if you are transporting more than 10,000 USD.

5
Stuart Guest

This was a VIP transfer. Law enforcement would not have had her come forward as they did. They would have come to the seat with no warning and removed her and her belongings from there. We see this quite often at Dulles on International flights.

3
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