Wow, US Homeland Security is serious stuff, flying to the USA involves many security checks, which I guess in the end I’m quite thankful for.
2006-02-24 06:40 GMT: As I queued in Edinburgh to check in for my flight to New York – Newark, the first of three flights to get me to Austin Texas for REALWorld 2006, I was given the third degree like never before.
We’re all used to being asked “did you pack your bag yourself?”, “has anyone given you anything to carry on the flight?”, “Have you got anything sharp in your hand luggage?”. But I wasn’t expecting “Who owns these bags?”, “Where did you pack your bags?”, “Where have your bags been since being packed?”, “Have your bags ever left your sight?” and a couple of others I can’t remember.
Then as I was checking in I was asked whether security could search my bag as part of a random check? First time I’ve ever had my main luggage bags searched, in over 9 years of frequent flying around the World (on a couple of occasions literally around the World, on my travels to New Zealand and back). Wasn’t an ordeal, the guy was very nice about it and very gentle with my kit, we had a nice chat actually, apparently he was in “the force” and had a torch similar to my mini maglight, but bigger. When all was done I locked my bag up and the security guy put my bag onto the belt of an empty check-in desk, I must admit I was a little worried that it would be forgot and wouldn’t make it to Newark.
The flight from Edinburgh to Newark was fine, pretty uneventful until we got close to our destination and started our descent when we met the worst turbulence I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. Scary s$*t, we had a real rough ride there, and had some spectacular drops. You should of heard the screams, I’ve only heard anything like it while watching some crappy airplane disaster movie or something. At first I was laughing it off, but towards the end after a few sudden drops as we neared the runway I wasn’t smiling any longer, in-fact I don’t mind admitting that my hands were gently wringing the life out of the arm wrest!
After kissing the ground on exiting the plane, onto US Immigration. I’ve only been through US immigration twice before, both times were excruciatingly slow, hot and very tiring. This was nothing like that. I queued for maybe five minutes and then I was up (a new guy on came shift and I switched across and was third in line). Got the finger print and picture thing done, and then the usual “business or pleasure?” (actually it was just “here on business?”, he’d read my visa waver card), “what do you do?” etc. And then “have you been to the States before?”, my answer “yes, a couple of times.”, and then he asked the trick question … “When was the first time you visited?”. Had to think about that one, it was quite a while ago, “1998″. “Thank you, have a nice stay!”. Pretty painless really, much better than last time.
Waiting for my bags was a little nervy, fingers and toes crossed in hope that my bag made it onto the flight. Bags took a while to come out, no surprise there, seemed to come in waves, I guess as they were unloaded from each of those little trucks you see scooting around on the tarmac. First wave of bags came and went, mine wasn’t there. Second wave came and went, no sight of my Samsonite. Third, no bag (getting a little nervous now), fourth, oh dear. Long wait. Is that it? Surely not, there’s still about twenty groups here still. Wait some more, bugger. Fifth arrives, and mine is first! Thank [insert preferred descriptive expletive here, something like "goodness" will do]!
Through customs (apparently that consists of just queuing and handing them your customs card), and then I need to find where I drop off my case for the trip through to Austin (via Cleveland). Easy, couldn’t miss it. Nice lady checked the tag on my case and said “Just give it to that guy to put on the belt, it’s unlocked right?”. Eh? “You must unlock your case, just scoot over there and unlock it and then give it to the guy.”. I’m surprised at this, obviously this is so that the bag can be searched, it wasn’t just my case, I heard her ask everyone, but this really goes against the grain for me. In the U.K. we’re used to being told to make sure your case is locked so that it can’t be tampered with. Got no choice, and I’m not going to argue about it, so just step aside and unlock it, open and close each latch to make sure it really is, and then pass it onto the guy who out it on the belt. Fingers crossed again that those latches don’t spring open in transit and I lose all my loosely packed socks and shorts or something. Don’t relish the idea of going commando!
Now I go up to the departure gates area and wait in a long queue to go through security. Had my Boarding Pass and Passport checked twice while waiting, as did everybody. Moved pretty quick really considering what you find when you arrive at the scanners. I usually get sorted for the scanner nice and early, I empty everything from my pockets, wallet, loose change, gadgets, put them in my bag and then take off my coat, but I didn’t expect … “All males over the age of 16 must take off their shoes” was shouted out, “… or else you will be searched.“. “All laptops must be removed from bags and placed in a separate box.“. Why were only blokes asked to take off their shoes and put them through the scanner? Why not women too? I don’t get it, although I understand why it’s a good idea to have them put through the scanner (I saw Aeon Flux the other day, O.K. bit of entertainment but she had stuff hidden in her shoes, no man did from what I remember). I guess, in the end, it does make me feel quite a bit safer to see this kind of thing happening, it’s a pain, but better safe than sorry I say.
After that it’s been nice and calm. Had really nice service in the Garden State Diner (where I had a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, yummy), and even had one of the same stewardesses from the flight to Newark on my flight to Cleveland, which was nice, small World really isn’t it?
While I waited for my flight to Cleveland I caught a few of the endless CNN “loops”, it was quite strange to see some stuff about home on the news, i.e. the £40 Million robbery and something about the Mayor of London’s suspension for his concentration camp comment to a Jewish reporter. There was also something about Bono and Geldof being nominated for Nobel Peace prizes or something. It was hard to tell what was being said on the newscast as every other sentence was interrupted by airport announcements, but I did see a piece about some “eighty year old” driving for 14 miles the wrong way down the freeway, in the fast lane, which was quite funny.
It’s now 19:40 EST (00:40 GMT) and I’m now sitting in the departures lounge in Cleveland waiting for my flight down to Austin. My seat makes a “ffft ffft ffft” sound every time I move, a bit like some unfortunate harnessed beast from Star Wars complaining as it gets a heel in it’s side, and “Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom” is smoking the place out. I’ve had a nice Raspberry, Strawberry and Low Fat Dairy Mix “All That Raz” smoothie (my first ever proper smoothie), and am considering wandering off to get a Starbucks.
I’m not going to submit this post just now as I’d need to pay for wireless access, but I will as soon as I get to somewhere with free internet access. I think I’ll post more “notes from the States” throughout the week, if anything just as something to look back on later, but also so that family and friends can see what I’m getting up to as well. I’ll try and write at least one post per day.
Ta-ta for now!
Update 19:54 EST (00:54 GMT): Got my Starbucks, my usual “Americano” (after much experimenting over the years I’ve settled on good old simple coffee), and boy they’re stronger over here (or maybe it’s just because that’s what I need just now)! Me likes.
Update 23:55 CST (05:55 GMT): Made it to Austin, with case and everything!
Flight from Cleveland was pretty smooth, didn’t even realize we’d actually taken off it was so smooth and I was reading about Yao the Houston Rockets 7 foot six inch tall Chinese basketball player in the in-flight magazine. Tiny little plane, but nice and quick on and off it.
Walked through the airport to baggage claim and as I came to the carousel my case popped up into sight from the chute, how jammy is that! First thing I did? Move to the side and pop my case open to check everything was there. Not sure my case was searched, one of the internal detachable side pockets was off it’s hooks and the batteries for my alarm clock were no where to be seen (later found down opposite sides of the case), but everything looks to be there. Sigh of relief.
Spending the night in the Hilton at the airport, nice big room, usual fair for a Hilton. Rather tired, been awake for nearly 25 hours now, time to crash (can say that now that I don’t have any more flights for a few days)! Night night.