When I checked into the Alaska from Canada via customs the agent said, “Anything to Declare?” I said yes, I had a shotgun for bear defense. He said, “Everyone in the US should have a shotgun, have a good visit”. And that was it.
Not so a month later coming back into the US through customs at Bellingham Washington. I had a messy plane packed with lots of stuff and I think that was a red flag for them.
The shotgun really got them nervous. I explained we had planned on heading north of the Arctic Circle and bears can be a problem up there. He asked where I got it (inherited it), how many shells I had (6), where were they, etc. etc. He asked if I had paperwork for it. I said no, but that Canada had wanted a form filled out, and since they never actually asked me for it I probably had that. He said, yes, he would need that form.
I couldn’t find it and that made him angry. “You said you had it”, he said. “I need to see that”. Well heck it wasn’t even a required US form, it was for Canada.
Then I discovered my airplane registration was out of date. Oh boy, a huge problem apparently and a customs official spent much time typing away at his computer while I waited. I knew I shouldn’t but I finally offered that he could look me up in the public FAA aircraft registration database. Yep, I should have kept my mouth shut. He snapped that “What if the internet was down? And didn’t I know that this was required, especially for International flight?” I said yes, I was aware of that and admitted I knew I had made a serious error by not putting the new registration in the plane. Then I didn’t say anything more unless asked.
I sat there another 30 minutes while they searched the plane until one of the agents approached me. “You have a lot of stuff in your airplane, don’t you?”.
I laughed and said, “yes, I really do”. I thought he was making small talk.
He said, “you are overloaded, aren’t you?”.
Oh boy, big alarm bells went off. I said “No, absolutely not. This is a six place plane and it is only me and my dog. It is mainly sleeping bags, tents and camping gear that takes up a lot of space.” I had brought a weight and balance I had done for the way up but I didn’t want to show it to him since I’m sure he could pick it apart. He was not FAA so this actually wasn’t his business.
He said, “Well maybe if this was a Cessna 206.”
I said, “Actually they are very similar planes. They have the same engine and carry similar weights”.
After some back and forth about my plane, he said, “OK you can go, but you better hope the FAA doesn’t stop you. You should really have all your papers in order”. What? OK, I had an expired registration card (registration was not expired) but there were no other papers missing. He was still thinking about the Canadian gun paperwork I think.
I actually thought they may have called the FAA so I half-expected a FAA agent waiting for me in Olympia, my first USA stop. I polished up my weight and balance calculations on my iPad on the way down. It was well within bounds for both weight and balance (300 lbs under). In fact later when I unloaded the plane I weighed each item so I could absolutely nail down the weight and it was very close to what I already had.
Anyway, no FAA agent was waiting for me, I guess I was a little paranoid. Bets was still driving at that point so I used Uber Eats to get food delivered to the Oympia Airport. We ate when she arrive and slept in the van in the parking lot after asking permission from the flight training business there.
The next day was a long day for Bets but only a 3.5 hour flight for me to get home. I flew 50 hours since leaving for Alaska two months before, quite a few more hours than I thought. I had done an oil change right before I left and did another right at my return.
Bets drove over 8,000 miles in the van. Yikes. She was adamant about driving while I flew so we could have the airplane up there and still have the van to sleep in. So I’m very grateful that she happily did that!