Air Travel or What I Do Not Want to Do Again for a Long Time

My journey from Linyi, China to Tulsa, Oklahoma/Houston, Texas/Victoria, Texas. 48 hours of excruciating waiting to arrive. How did people ever do this before air travel? Maybe they did it more comfortably? Would a week on a ship across the Pacific have been better than 10 hours on a cramped Chinese train? How about 13 hours on an airplane containing 28 newly adopted Chinese babies? Sitting next to the bathroom? Or hours spent waiting for weather delayed airplanes in New Jersey?

Start to finish:
Linyi to Beijing – 10 hours on a third class hard seat
Beijing – 10 hours spent waiting around downtown Beijing and the capital airport for my tickets & flight.
Beijing to Newark, New Jersey – 13 hours spent enduring airline food, smelly bathrooms, 28 crying babies and a too small seat.
Newark – When the original 1 hour layover stretched into 3, I finally achieved the ability to sleep doubled over my backpack in a waiting area packed with people.
Newark to Houston, Texas – A 3 hour flight? Yes, but first you must wait for take-off, and when I looked out my window and observed over 30 airplanes in line waiting for take-off ahead of us, I settled in for a good long wait.
Houston – Originally scheduled to arrive at 10PM, we land at 1AM.
Houston to Tulsa, Oklahoma – not done yet! Back to the airport at 6:30. 4 hours later, arrive in Tulsa for a glorious 3 days without airplanes. (Followed by two more flights to finally arrive in Victoria, Texas later that week.)

So how was my vacation? All I did was fly! And when you work everyday at an airport, live with pilots and are studying to become an aviation instructor, this is maybe not how you want to spend your holiday.

This is why I have not written anything about my trip since arriving back in Linyi. I needed to wait until the jet lag left me so I didn’t write mean and nasty things about airport security, airplanes, airplane designers, airplane food chefs, the whole time zone system, and adoptive parents.

I will say:
Airport security! Who are we kidding here? You all realize that it is all just a show for the passenger’s benefit right? But don’t dare say that in the actual security area. You will be arrested! An endlessly looped voice in the airports reminds you that making jokes or saying anything negative about airport security will result in your arrest.

I am now totally prepared for a flight within the US. Take off your shoes. Take out your laptop. PUT IN ITS OWN BIN! Take out your 1 quart ziplock bag containing your containers with less than 3 oz of liquids or gels. YOUR BAG IS NOT 1 QUART! (Sorry, I couldn’t even find a ziplock bag in Linyi, let alone one that is 1 quart, you get what you get.) STEP OVER HERE. bla bla bla.
My only real issue here is the liquid deal. There is a lot more to this issue than people realize. Did you know the so-called liquid bombers weren’t even charged? There was just no evidence that it was a plausible plan.

For those of you interested in airport security and other aspects of aviation, Patrick Smith writes a snappy little column on Salon.com called Ask the Pilot. I particularly enjoy when he discusses airport security:

Security at the odd little airport in Kiev, Ukraine, is quick and straightforward, albeit with a mild American flavor if you happen to be bound for the United States. If so, you’ll be asked to remove your footwear, and your carry-ons will be inspected for liquids. The guards seem almost apologetic, and have arranged a series of chairs and small throw rugs where fliers can gather up their bags and relace their shoes. A nice touch, I thought.

Half a day later, in the dingy bowels of Terminal 3 at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, passengers clear customs and race to catch connecting flights upstairs. Unfortunately, Transportation Security Administration rules require that all those arriving from overseas pass through a secondary security screening prior to boarding a domestic connection. Although we were carefully checked out in Kiev, we must now endure another shoe removal and bag scan. Somebody help me with this: We require foreign countries to implement the same tedious and wasteful preflight checks we’ve adopted at home. Yet, after your plane has landed in the United States, suddenly the checks weren’t good enough, and everybody is marched through a metal detector all over again.

Apparently, we are worried more about those departing for Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis or Salt Lake City than about those arriving from Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait or Pakistan. In the convoluted circuitry of Homeland Security logic, passengers coming from abroad are not adequately screened but are allowed onto U.S.-bound flights regardless. The only restriction is, they cannot proceed onward without a follow-up shakedown, presumably to make sure those foreign screeners didn’t miss any deadly stashes of shaving cream.

“Laptops out of your bags!” screams a TSA minion as 150 tired fliers are funneled into a tiny, kitty-cornered screening station. The room is cramped, loud, chaotic and filthy. No throw rugs here, just a few busted chairs set next to an overflowing trash barrel. Squeezed into this undersized corridor amid a mass of anxious travelers, half of whom are on the verge of missing their onward flights, I must now do the following as quickly as possible:

1) Remove my backpack
2) Remove my jacket
3) Remove my shoes
4) Remove my laptop from the backpack, and from its case
5) Remove my approved, 1-quart-size zip-lock bag containing its legal allotment of 3-ounce containers of liquids and gels from the backpack

Item 4 must be placed in separate tray, alone. Item 5 goes in a round plastic dish, also by itself. Items 1, 2 and 3 are piled together in a third tray. But not so fast, as a guard warns me not bury my shoes beneath the other items. He recommends I place them separately on the belt, or in yet another tray. So there I am, one person, with four separate trays of belongings. And after those belongings are X-rayed, it’s time to:

1) Put my coat back on
2) Put my shoes back on
3) Repack the computer
4) Repack the approved, 1-quart-size zip-lock bag
5) Strap on my backpack

All of this with no chair or table, elbow to elbow with a dozen other people all doing the same thing. I’m trying to grab my stuff as more and more bins come clattering down the rollers. I can’t find my shoes, and I have no idea where my passport is. The scene is so chaotic it’s making my head spin. Then it gets worse:

“Whose bag is this?” yelps a woman in a red TSA vest.

Naturally it’s mine, and naturally she has to scan it again, because “there’s something in there.” That something turns out to be a 2.5-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer. In a rush, I’d packed it separately from my other lethal fluids and forgotten about it.

Five minutes later, after the bag finally completes its second trip down the belt, the woman unzips it, digs down inside and emerges with the sanitizer. She holds it up for inspection, making a tsk-tsk noise. “You can’t have this.”

“Why not? It’s fewer than 3 ounces.”

“It’s not in a zip-lock bag.”

“That’s because my zip-lock bag is over here, with these other things inside.”

“Well, it has to be in a zip-lock bag.”

“But it’s right there in your hand! You can see what it is.”

“I told you, it has to be in a zip-lock bag.”

“You realize I just stepped off a 10-hour flight, and that bottle was with me the whole time?”

No reply, just a stare.

There’s a pause now while I attempt to make sure that I’m not dreaming. There are those times in life when you simply can’t believe you’re having the conversation you appear to be having, and this is one of them.

“So,” I say to the woman. “You mean to tell me that if I take that bottle, and put it into this bag with the other tubes and bottles, everything is OK. But if it stays by itself, you have to confiscate it?”

“I told you, it has to be in a zip-lock bag.”

And into the zip-lock bag it went, and off I staggered to catch my connecting flight, which by now had departed.

There you have it: Tiny containers of hand sanitizer in zip-lock bags are harmless and approved. Those not in zip-lock bags are dangerous contraband. Meanwhile, the TSA still cannot justify its methods of confiscation: If certain liquids and gels are taken from a passenger, the assumption has to be that those materials are potentially hazardous. If so, why are they tossed unceremoniously into the trash? At every checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with illegal containers. They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are thrown away. In effect, the agency readily admits that it knows these things are harmless. But it’s going to steal them anyway, and either you like it or you don’t fly.

This is exactly what I wanted to say about airport security! His experience is quite accurate, as I endured the same conditions. Flying out of Beijing, there is a special security line just for flights to the US. (Flights domestically and to other destinations do not have to comply with the liquid ban. Nor do they have to remove their laptops from their cases or their shoes.) With all the security, I felt something like a criminal, and I am not surprised now when friends tell me they deliberately are not traveling to the US for holidays.

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2 Responses to “Air Travel or What I Do Not Want to Do Again for a Long Time”

  1. intlxpatr Says:

    I feel your pain. Living in the Middle East seems to automatically get me the “special” treatment. What a pain in the . . . neck. And you are saying the liquid bombers weren’t even charged??? I didn’t know that. Amazing.

  2. Global Gal Says:

    Oops, I made an error in my post. The liquid bombers were charged. One of the bombers being held in Pakistan had his terrorism charges dropped, but the group held in Britain will go to trial. However, there is a great deal of skepticism that the bombings were even possible. Certainly, there is not enough risk to require the ridiculous liquid rules now in place in the states. Didn’t the press & the government make it seem that this was an imminent threat!? Not quite.

    a google search will provide some websites with more info, here are a few I read:
    http://www.atlanticfreepress.com/content/view/1608/81/
    http://winterpatriot.blogspot.com/2006/09/liquid-bombers-series.html

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