Vicissitudes of Check-In
I can’t keep track of all the regulations for luggage – how many bags you can take without paying extra, how heavy they can be, what your carry-on can weigh – so every time I walk up to check-in, I start to worry what it’s going to cost me (to date, despite many overweight bags, just one luggage fee of $200 for my first bag for a domestic US flight). At the Air France counter, the man next to me was getting nailed for every extra half kilo by the woman at the counter. (I couldn’t help wondering if it was because he looked Middle Eastern.) The ticket agent checking my passport kept looking over and saying, “Is that a regulation?” to which she would snap, “Yes, it’s a regulation! And this is a full flight, so we have to be really strict!” So I was pretty worried, because I was pretty sure that my bag was overweight. But when I loaded it on the scale, my ticket agent (a very cute young man) didn’t even turn on the scale, and didn’t even blink when he hauled it off again on his side. Check-in is so arbitrary!
I felt so bad on my way through security for the poor young man, about 19, in a big ghetto sweatshirt and über-baggy jeans, with a big “Arab-fro” (you know, like a “Jew-fro” – see picture – except darker!) who got pulled aside at least 4 times for extra inspections. Extra check on his passport, then patted down even though he didn’t set off the alarm, including having a TSA man put his hands all through the guy’s hair, and then making him take everything out of his carry-on for inspection. And as I walked away, I saw him putting back into his bag an enormous manual on passing your FAA certification….
I mean, I understand the importance of the job TSA does. I both admire and pity them for it. They have to rely on racial profiling, even though they deny it. El Al is right when they say it’s the only way to be effective. But, honestly, if you were a terrorist, would you put on such an distinctively rebellious look? Wouldn’t you want to look inconspicuous, in bootleg jeans and a T-shirt with an unremarkable hairstyle? This kid, Arab though he clearly was, didn’t look like a terrorist. Quite the opposite. He looked like a teenager rebelling against his conservative parents by embracing Western culture. He also looked used to this. Like all my Arab-American friends, I’m sure he gets pulled aside for “random” inspections every time he flies….
I seemed to run into them everywhere I went. At the airport, I found myself sitting next to an older couple, the woman wearing hijab. When the ground crew gave instructions for boarding, it was with a very thick French accent, and the woman started asking her husband in Arabic what was going on. He didn’t know, so I jumped in and explained. “Are you Arab?” she asked, very confused.
“No, I’m American.”
“Where did you learn your Arabic?”
“Oh, I’ve been living in Jordan.”
“Really? We’re Iraqi, but we’ve been living in Jordan for 22 years.”
In the end, I got an invitation to dinner at their house with “some real Iraqi food”!