Before any of us can embark on our travel adventures, we need to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. One of the biggest barriers that prevents us from getting to where we need to go are the gate keepers that stand between us and our final destination.
Gate keepers are the majority of the ticket agents and airport personnel who are there to expedite our connections. Most of them are highly competent, polite and extremely patient. They deal with irritating, time obsessed and frantic passengers like me all the time and somehow they manage to keep their cool. They deserve an award every day for showing up and dealing with the predominantly rude travelling public, of which I can be one when provoked. But I’m not talking about these stellar people.
I’m talking about those special gate keepers in positions of authority or power: customs and security officers. They have the ability to ruin your day quickly and to help you forget in an instant that you were ever on a beach 10 hours ago. They are the trolls controlling the bridges we need to cross to move forward in our journey.
Think of the scene from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Sir Lancelot needs to cross a bridge to continue in his quest to find the Holy Grail, but before he can do so, he is approached by a troll-like bridge keeper. The bridge keeper asks him: “What is your name? What is your quest? What…is your favourite colour?” Like Lancelot, we never know what strange questions we will be asked by the gate keepers on our quest or what personal indignities we will be made to suffer in order to make it to the other side.
I think back (not fondly) to one of the worst trips I’ve ever experienced. I was flying home from the Bahamas after a week of shark diving. It was an amazing trip and I was about as relaxed as I could be. They were pretty relaxed at the Grand Bahama International Airport too, and the plane was delayed by 2 hours. When I finally reached Miami, I had missed my connecting flight home. The ticket agent told me there were no connecting flights to Toronto. The best she could do was to connect me from Miami to Dallas, followed by Dallas to Chicago, and then finally, Chicago to Toronto. Brutal. Really? That’s the best you can do? I’ll have to take it.
But before this trip odyssey could begin, I saw the agent put a YVR (Vancouver) tag on my YYZ (Toronto) bound bags. I quickly alerted her to the error, and she apologized profusely. Looking back, I shudder to think how much worse this horrible trip could have been if my bags had ended up in Vancouver. But in retrospect, it would have been better.
The connecting flight from Miami to Dallas left late also. While waiting to board the flight, airport security decided this was a good time to do a random security check. Single women are always a good target. This I know. It’s become a running joke with my friends. “Did you get checked this time? Pat down or the wand?” It’s become comical. But in front of the passengers to Dallas, I didn’t appreciate being the star of the “So do you think she’s a drug mule?” show, as the security wands buzzed me over from head to toe. It was humiliating. And then they found the travel bottle of vodka in my pocket.
‘What’s this?’ they asked. “What does it look like? It says it’s vodka,” I said. “Why don’t you open it up and check for yourself?” Snappy comments, I’ve learned, don’t lend themselves well to security situations. The wand came out for a 2nd time, and I was asked to spread my legs. The humiliation was total. I think the ticket agent looking on felt sorry for me. She ended up putting me in first class, where I drank every possible free liquor offered to me. When the plane finally landed in Dallas, I was thankful that they transported me by mini cart to the plane which was departing as I was seriously intoxicated!
When I finally arrived in Toronto, it was 2:00 a.m. I was thoroughly exhausted and dying to get home. As I went through Customs, they asked me my port of departure. I’m sure they noted that the Bahamas was not a recent flight, and they hauled me into secondary, where 2 Customs officers asked to see my travel documentation. I gave them whatever was in my purse. When they barked that my documentation was incomplete, I told them that my purse wasn’t big enough to hold all of the paper work from today’s trip odyssey down dysfunction lane. Exhausted and punchy, I said to them, “This is the 2nd time today I’ve been checked by Security. I’d like to know what profile I fit that I get stopped and checked by people like you every time I travel.” Like I said, meeting with Customs officers is not the time to use snippy or snappy language. The next thing I knew, I was told to “sit down and shut up.” I then allowed them to go through every item of my bags, from dirty clothes and makeup to shoes and lipstick. No stone was left unturned. I finally got home at 3:00.
But as bad as this experience was for me, I’m just an occasional traveller. My next post will tell you about a truly scary experience with Customs experienced by a close friend of mine: the Original Fly Girl. Original Fly Girl travels for a living and recently she told me of her truly outrageous experience with a Customs officer troll who was truly out of control. After hearing her story, you’ll be checking your declaration cards extra close next time you travel, believe me! Stay tuned!