Tag Archives: airport

Airline Security For The Uninitiated

8 Feb

When I first flew to Canada almost twelve years ago, travel was relatively easy. You checked your bag and got your boarding pass from a pretty woman with a big smile and insanely white teeth, and then you headed over to the gate, where your carry-on bag went through an X-ray machine. As long as you didn’t have something in there that could bring down Fort Knox, you were good to go.

Even in the wake of 9/11, there wasn’t really anything to travelling. The same procedures were followed, albeit more thoroughly. Lineups were longer, more questions were asked, and from time to time, your stuff was checked for anthrax.

Now that I am in the midst of my first long-haul journey in seven years, I find that air travel is a whole different ballgame to what it used to be. All the rules have changed, and when I went through the security screening at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, I had no idea what to expect.

I had already quizzed one of my co-workers, a recent traveller, on the legalities of bringing a small tube of toothpaste onto the plane with me. For some reason I thought that if I knew the answer to that, I’d be home free.

But then I saw the guy in front of me sifting through his carry-on baggage, removing items and confidently putting them in plastic trays. He whipped off his jacket and put it into another tray. He and his belongings went through the various machines and off he went. And I was left standing there, wondering what I was supposed to be putting into the plastic trays.

I took out my sad tube of toothpaste in its Ziploc bag and put it into a tray, along with my phone and my laptop. And because I had seen the guy in front of me remove his jacket, I did the same.  I tentatively shoved all of my stuff onto the conveyer belt and wondered about my shoes.

Some people were removing their shoes and others weren’t. Everyone appeared to know as if by magic whether their footwear could stay on their feet. I had to expose myself as the no-longer-experienced traveller that I am and call out to a security guy, who assured me that my shoes looked fine and could stay on.

Although it took no longer than three minutes for me to pass through the security checkpoint, I found the whole process to be a little daunting. Then again, this entire trip is daunting when you consider the circumstances behind it.

At least when I passed through the checkpoint at Heathrow Airport, I kind of knew what I had to do. I even knew the exact pose to strike when the machine beeped at me as I walked through and I had to be searched.

I really hope they don’t change the rules again during my stay in South Africa. It would be a shame, now that I’m just starting to get the hang of it again.

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Taking Flight

9 Mar

This is a continuation of the series I started last week

The six weeks prior to my departure passed in a whirlwind of frenetic activity. I had never traveled internationally by myself, and I had assumed that all I had to do was book the tickets, pack a bag, and show up at the airport two hours before the flight was scheduled to leave.

I had not factored in things like getting my passport renewed, undergoing the requisite medical screening, obtaining foreign currency, getting travel insurance, and visiting with friends and family to say my goodbyes. I could barely find the time to pack.

Packing was an ordeal in and of itself. Cramming all of my essential belongings into checked baggage did not turn out to be easy. Of course, now that I am a seasoned traveler, my idea of what is actually “essential” has changed dramatically. But back then, the list of things that I just had to take was staggering (most of these items would end up getting jettisoned over the course of my travels).

My Mom tearfully helped me pack. Her sadness was, I think, twofold. There was the normal Mom’s angst about the prospect of saying goodbye to a daughter who was bound for a faraway land and didn’t know when she was returning. And there was the fact that the last time I had left home for any length of time, I had come back damaged and jaded. She implored me not to make any stupid decisions. If you get into trouble, she said, just get on a plane and come home.

Before I knew it, the day had arrived. My parents got me to the airport four hours prior to departure time. I was flying El Al: the Israelis, being understandably nervous about who and what they were letting onto their planes, had a rigourous screening procedure years before 9/11. They made me light one of my cigarettes (I was a smoker in those days), take a picture with my camera (using the flash), and make my alarm clock go off. I got questioned at length as to why I was wearing my blue fedora-style hat and whether I had purchased the contents of my luggage myself.

Eventually, me and my luggage were deemed fit to board the plane. I had a final cup of coffee with my parents, and then, when it was time to go, they hugged me fiercely and tried to fight back tears. I waved at them until I could no longer see them, although I knew they would stay at the airport until after my plane had departed. As I found my way to the boarding gate, I pictured my Dad with his arm around my Mom’s shoulders, comforting and being comforted. I felt my chest constrict with anguish at what I had put my parents through, and for a moment I had the urge to turn back.

I resolutely continued. I needed to do this. I knew it in my gut, and I believe that my parents knew it too. I had lost myself over the last few years, and I needed to spread my wings and give myself the space to find my way back through the woods.

In the departure lounge, I found myself chatting with someone called Wayne, who like me, was traveling on the Kibbutz program. He asked me what had prompted me to go, and I told him that I needed to get away from some bad stuff that had happened. “Same here,” he told me.

At boarding time, we joined the line at the departure gate. Further screening ensued (really ahead of the curve on airline security, the Israelis), and we got through the chaos of boarding only to discover that our assigned seats were beside each other. Neither Wayne nor I could possibly know, at that point, that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would still be enduring almost two decades later.

At the moment of take-off, I pictured my parents standing at the big glass windows in the airport terminal, watching and waving, and wishing me Godspeed as the plane lifted into the air and disappeared into the night sky.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10037058@N08/2779012499)

Being An Alien In A Strange Land

24 Jan

The date was August 14, 2000.  I have no idea what time it was, but it was already dark, I had had a long day, and my head was several time zones to the west.  Even though I was sick with exhaustion, I felt the exhiliration of having arrived.  After months of planning and finding my way through bureaucratic tape, after some last-minute logistical crises, I was here, ready to start my new life.

The man behind the counter came back from wherever he had been, handed me my freshly stamped passport, and with a smile said, “Welcome to Canada”.

Well.  This was a nice change from the way airport officials had treated me in the United States earlier in the day.  This was back in the time when South African nationals were allowed to be in transit through the United States without a visa (I’d bet my left arm that this is no longer the case).  I had been made to sit in a departure lounge with security guys watching me from the doorway, as if I was about to take off and make a run for it.  The fact that my friend Kane had come out to meet me helped me ignore their suspicious gaze.

I mean, honestly. I was a smallish woman, bogged down with enough stuff to weigh down an elephant, and I had just travelled across seven time zones.  What damage did they think I was capable of?  I was barely capable of beating an egg.

But anyway.  Now I was in Canada – had been WELCOMED to Canada – and I was allowed beyond the confines of the airport.  I picked up my baggage, paid a visit to the foreign currency exchange desk, and caught a cab to where I would be staying for the first six weeks.  It was dark so I could not see much, but all the way to the rented furnished apartment I peered excitedly through the window like a little kid looking out for his first glimpse of the ocean.

By the time I got to the apartment and checked in, it was well past midnight.  I was tired, but the time change had played silly buggers with my mind, so sleep was out of the question.  I unpacked, called my parents to tell them I had arrived in one piece, and then spent the rest of the night poring over my travel guide.  I fell asleep at some point in the early hours of the morning.

I had a week to explore and find my way around before I was due to start my new job, and I got started right way, the day after I arrived.  My first venture into the City of Toronto is an experience I will never forget.  The apartment was located right in the city centre, so I reasoned that it would probably take a day for me to explore my immediate environs on foot.  I would tackle the subway system the following day.

Armed with my map, and with my camera hanging around my neck (face it, I may as well have had the word TOURIST stamped right on my head) I stepped out from the apartment building and started walking.  When I turned a corner not far from where I was staying, I saw a life-sized fibreglass moose, painted in bright colours.

I thought this was pretty cool.  I mean, a life-sized moose in the middle of Toronto. For someone who had just landed in Canada to see something so symbolic of – well, Canada – this was kind of neat.  I liked it.

It had the added bonus of being a handy landmark.  When I see the moose, I thought, I will be close to the apartment.

Four very confusing blocks later, I sat in a coffee shop reading an article about Toronto’s project to put brightly coloured moose sculptures on almost every street in the city.

So much for my landmark.

By the time I wanted to go back to the apartment, I was thoroughly lost.  Those damned moose!  I felt as if I should have sprinkled cookie crumbs in my trail so I could find my way back, like Hansel and Gretel (although look what happened to them – probably not the best example).

Eventually I found my way around.  I learned how to tell one moose from another, and I became proficient at travelling around on the subway.  It took a while for me to really get to know the place, and to build up a social support network, but as the saying goes, I got by with a little help from my friends.

It is strange to think that more than ten years have passed since then.  In that time, a lot has happened.  I have met my life partner and husband-to-be (and YES, it’s the same person!).  I have had two kids.  I have left one job and started another.  I have run races, made friends, weathered a financial crisis, travelled home to bury my father.  I have become a Canadian citizen and for the first time,exercised my right to vote in a Canadian election. A lifetime seems to have happened in the last decade.

It would be easy to reflect on the ways in which my life would be different if I had not packed my life into checked baggage and left South Africa. But that would be pointless.

It is enough for me to know that I have held onto cherished family relationships and friendships from my previous life, while forming some new ones here in Canada.  I feel like I have the best of both worlds, and I am exactly where I want to be.