Last year, I flew on Emirates from Milan to New York (JFK). Everyone was given US declaration cards, and I filled it out as required. However, when I arrived at passport control, there was an automatic machine that processed me, which also made me answer some basic customs questions, thus rendering my paper declaration card unnecessary. (However, I do want to note that they didn't ask for things such as an address in the US, unlike the paper card). At that point, I thought that maybe Emirates wasn't informed of the ATC yet and so was still giving out paper forms.

However, this year, I flew the exact same airline on the exact same route, and again I didn't need to show my US declaration card.

In other words, my question is: Why does Emirates keep handing out paper declaration forms if they aren't used at JFK anymore? Does it have to do with the fact that the questions on the paper are more detailed as on the machine, so they are kept as some sort of proof in case you need it? Or do maybe visa-holders need the paper form but ESTA travelers, Americans, and the like don't? But then shouldn't the airline know which travelers to hand them to and to which not to?

Note: I am a US citizen so maybe that has something to do with that. Also, relating to a comment, even if the FAs had simply been offering the declaration cards (which I'm quite sure they weren't, everyone had gotten one and I don't remember being asked if I wanted one), it shouldn't be up to the passenger to know if they need one or not; that would require them knowing for each and every single airport if the ATC would let them be processed or not. It would be much simpler if the FAs asked if you had an ESTA, what nationality you have, etc, wouldn't it?

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    If you're rejected by the electronic machine, you'll need to hand over the paper copy when you talk to the agent in person. Are you a US citizen? Some airports don't have the automated gates for non-citizen. Jul 24, 2017 at 14:35
  • It would be a nightmare for the airline to verify who needs the paper card and who doesn't. It's much easier to hand it out to everyone and forget about it.
    – JonathanReez
    Jul 24, 2017 at 14:43
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    @JonathanReez yet in the days of the paper I-94 form, they did just that, where every passenger had to complete either a white form or a green form or no form at all, depending on citizenship and on what kind of visa they had, if any. I suspect that the reason has more to do with the fact that the APC criteria vary from airport to airport, and even from one terminal to the next in some airports.
    – phoog
    Jul 24, 2017 at 14:54
  • Next time, try to note if they're asking passengers of they need the card and not just handing them out. On all my recent flights, it was very clear the FA's were merely offering the card, not giving them to everyone.
    – DTRT
    Jul 24, 2017 at 15:18
  • I don't get, why Air Traffic Control (ATC) should be responsible for this :) Jun 21, 2018 at 11:24

1 Answer 1


In my experience, every airline offers US declaration cards out to all inbound passengers, regardless of whether they need them. Until fairly recently, everyone needed them (in fact, there were multiple forms and it was all rather a mess), and the rules as to when you need them are quite confusing: are there APC kiosks at the destination airport? Are they working? Are you eligible to use the APC kiosks (and the rules on this sometimes vary at different airports, making it even worse)? Will you use the APC kiosks if you're eligible? Are you traveling with someone who is in-eligible and want to go through together? Will they throw up some kind of error when you try to use them? Do you need to document the value of your foreign purchases because you're over the duty-free allowance?

Cabin crew have enough to do without trying to sort through all that and interview every passenger about whether they need a form. So they simply offer one to everyone, most people fill them out, and some passengers find out they did so unnecessarily. Irritating? Yes, but I'm not convinced fixing this is high on anyone's priority list right now.

I'll sometimes decline the card if I know I don't need it. A quick "no thanks, Global Entry" is sufficient. (If it's a carrier that doesn't operate a lot of flights to the US, it may take a couple more refusals or an explanation that you really promise you don't need the form, thanks so much for offering. They did not seem to think I knew what I was talking about when I did this on Air India.) That said, there is some value in filling it out even if you don't think you need it, as you might find the kiosks or the mobile app aren't working for you, and then you're delayed at the back of the line while you fill out a form at the airport.

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    "delayed at the back of the line": this happened to me last summer when I thought I'd be able to use APC at Newark, only to find out that there was no APC in the terminal where I arrived.
    – phoog
    Jul 24, 2017 at 19:09

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