Tag Archives: Canada

Airport Gestapo – The Final Chapter

. . . . previously, I’d caused havoc, embarrassment and humiliation at Heathrow Airport and we were momentary illegal immigrants in Canada after having been awake for nearly 24 hours on our way to Seattle.

View of Calgary downtown from International Ai...
Imprisoned at Calgary Airport!  
View of Calgary downtown from International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zombified by tiredness we stepped out of an elevator at Calgary Airport and appeared to be behind the U.S. customs desks, tourists to-ing and fro-ing on the far side of them, shops and departure gates splayed out beyond. Treading very carefully after falling foul of Heathrow Gestapo security, we approached the first human we could find.

“Excuse me,” I said in a little girl’s voice. Not intentionally, mind you. He just looked so very big and I was feeling like Alice.

“Can I help you?” he asked. Oh, yes please. Give me a fireman’s lift to the first aid room, find a cot for me to lie down on and put a cold compress on my forehead.

I lost track of the people we asked for directions, the forms we handed over, the snaking empty mazes we trudged along, eventually passing go, saying goodbye to our suitcases again and, oh goody gosh, going through security.

Thankfully they didn’t seem to be expecting me. Our boarding cards and passports were inspected for the 43rd time and we were directed to a security queue. It was the same drill as at Heathrow except everyone was taking their shoes off so I meekly followed suit.

As our boarding cards were scrutinized for the 44th time the proceedings came to a halt.

A young blond Aryan looked at our boarding cards, looked at us, looked at the boarding cards again and squinted, showed them to her colleague, who looked at us then called two other colleagues over who all peered at us while pointing at our boarding cards.

I wanted to cry.

If it would have made them happy I would have laid down on the conveyor belt and gone through the luggage x-ray machine myself.

“I’m sorry,” blondie said, “you’ll have to go to that other line.”

“What?” I had heard the actual words she said. I just hoped she’d change her mind. Jimmy was putting his shoes back on without further questions.

“That other line,” and she pointed.

“Where?” My poor brain was shutting down and I wanted to be really, really certain she meant what she said.

“Over there by the wall,” she enunciated very carefully. My jacket, handbag, computer and shoes, all neatly laid out, taunted me from their trays. Jimmy wouldn’t look at me and was wheeling away.

With a last punch of stamina, I put myself back together, walked to the other line, unloaded into the trays and watched it all whiz away on the conveyor. Good riddance.

Our boarding cards had taken a little side trip, courtesy of the security staff, who perhaps didn’t have enough to do as they outnumbered the passengers. The boarding cards were walked round the whole area by various staff and admired by all and sundry as though they were showing off a cute puppy.

In my socks I stepped through the security scanner, where I was stopped yet again. “You’ve been chosen for security screening through our airport. It’s on your boarding card.” I’d already forgotten about the boarding cards. They were still being passed around for the staff to marvel at. “It has four S’s on it. Would you like me to search you or do you want to go through there?” She pointed to Jimmy, who in my dazed and weary state I’d also forgotten the existence of, standing in a round glass case in a familiar Hands up! stance. The virtual strip search.

English: Body image scanner cartoon avatar, ge...
English: Body image scanner cartoon avatar, generated by software in lieu of actual body image, proposed for use in U.S. as airport screening method. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I looked at him. I looked at her. “Ma’am?” she asked.

She looked at me.

“I have no idea.” I was so worn down by officialdom I was completely unable to make a simple decision.

“Why don’t you step through there?” she said kindly.

“Okay.” She could have been sending me to a firing squad for all I knew. Or cared.

After asking the way out of security, being misdirected and taking only two more wrong turns, we found our departure gate for Seattle and sat down.

“Can I see our boarding cards?” I asked Jimmy.

I held them up side by side. “Yours has the four S’s on it. Not mine.”

“I know.”

“You were the one security was tracking this time.”

“I know.”

“They picked you out to track through Calgary when we checked in at Heathrow and marked your boarding card, long before my snit in security.”

“I know,” he said, smirking.

“It was nothing to do with me not taking my shoes off.”

“Nope.”

“Let me see the boarding cards for the London/Calgary leg.”

“I threw them away.”

“Why?” I asked on a note of rising mania.

“They’re no good now.”

“I know that but I’d still like to see them.”

“Well you can’t.”

“I’ll bet mine for Heathrow has the four S’s on it.”

“Possibly.”

“Choosing me for a security search and tracking was completely random.”

“Probably.”

“You let me think it was my fault that we were screened.”

“Yes.”

I was too tired to give him a piece of my mind. I’m not sure there was a piece of it left to give him.

The flight to Seattle must have been uneventful as I didn’t feel inspired to write about it. That or we took a taxi from Calgary. I don’t remember now.

English: Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma...
Do you see what that sign says? Tiny print, right side of picture – Wrong Way. You betcha! I’m never going through security again. Ever. Until the next time. English: Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Airport Gestapo #5

. . . . previously, I’d behaved rather badly, I’m told, at Heathrow Airport security and been x-rayed, questioned and generally humiliated at many points throughout the airport. I maintain I was just tired and a wee bit grumpy from a 5 a.m. start.

English: The Calgary Stampede midway, with dow...
English: The Calgary Stampede midway, with downtown and the Calgary Tower in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ten hours after escaping the claws of the airport security reich and having been awake for 20 hours we were welcomed to Calgary – the home of the Calgary Stampede – by Cowboy Bob standing at the top of an escalator in his ten gallon hat, a pleasing change from Stalag Heathrow.

The immigration officer, rather worryingly dressed in a bullet proof vest, was abrupt but business-like wording his short questions for the sleep-deprived and only detaining us for a few seconds.

The Canadian customs officer actually had a sense of humor and commiserated with us for being tired and many time zones from our departure point at Heathrow. It was all going smoothly for two weary travelers and we were still in good spirits at that stage.

Walking tentatively, gazing around and pushing a wayward cart loaded with two weight limit suitcases and two well overweight carry-ons, we must have looked suitably befuddled for an obliging uniformed aide to come to our rescue. “What is your destination?”

Helpfully, it was the only question our addled brains could answer, “Seattle.”

“You need U.S. Customs. It’s upstairs,” and she gave a stewardess-type sweep of the hand to direct us. With new found determination, we strode through the indicated automatic doors, through a lobby, past some shops and found ourselves out on the street at the taxi rank.

“This isn’t right.”

“No, it isn’t.” Stating the obvious is often a delaying tactic while we pull ourselves together. We headed back for the automatic doors and stopped short as they closed in our face, with a big red NO ENTRY symbol staring back at us. With little mental stamina left to guide us, we doggedly retraced our steps out onto the street again.

“This isn’t right.” Tiredness was limiting our vocabulary.

So there we stood, two dunderheads, two experienced trans-Atlantic travelers, who have hopped from London to Baltimore, Seattle and Phoenix, changing planes in New York, Reykjavik, Denver, Paris, Detroit, Toronto, Washington D.C., Montreal, Chicago, Copenhagen, Boston and Vancouver – some of the busiest airports in the world – and yet we stood outside at the curb at Calgary Airport at a complete loss at how to proceed.

“Let’s go back to the doors. We’ll wait for someone to come out,then shoot back in before they close.”

“But they’re no entry.”

“What do you suggest? Take a taxi to Seattle from here?”

Like a couple of illegal immigrants (technically we were as we stood on the street not having cleared immigration in Canada) we waited for someone on the right side of the doors to come out so we could bound through them. That someone was a flight attendant we recognized from our flight. “Can I help you?” he asked in a blessedly non-menacing way as we trespassed.

He took us through some unmarked doors, along a secret passage, pointed out an elevator, indicated a point on the ceiling where U.S. Customs should be “I think,” and disappeared into his phalanx of fellow Canadians.

With U.S. Customs within range, you’d think we’d be home and dry. I hope you’d be wishing us well at this point, or at least for an end to a seemingly endless tale, but there were more calamites to come.

. . . . to be continued.

[seattle]
Not there yet. Only several more annoying hoops to jump through![seattle] (Photo credit: lempel_ziv)
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Airport Gestapo #4

 . . . . . . previously, I’d behaved testily during the security search at Heathrow Airport, had a digital strip search (digital as in x-ray body scan, not what you were thinking) and been released back into the public domain of the airport lounge.

Two coffees, several visits to the loo (nervous bladder?), a few raids on the departure lounge shops, a long walk and two and a half hours later, we were seated at the gate, ready to board our flight.

Don’t take me there! Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org

My security breach had been put behind me and I was just opening my novel when I heard, “Excuse me madam, do you mind if I ask you a few questions? I’m with Heathrow Security.”

Looking up in alarm, I slammed my book shut reflexively, as though hiding my guilty secrets. She wore the crisp white blouse, black skirt and slick grooming of the previously encountered Gestapo. I wore an oh-no-not-again expression.

“Just some routine questions.” Another foreign accent. Ulla was the name on her badge. The secret police had tracked me through the airport! I was toying with the idea of saying Yes, I do mind, but she launched into her patter before I could muster up the bravado to give an unbidden answer to her rhetorical question.

“What is your destination?”

The same as everyone else held captive at this gate. “Calgary.”

“What is your final destination?”

“Seattle.”

“Where have you traveled from today?”

I muttered, “’pswich.” Alright, Ulla, spell that! With a quick and precise script she wrote Ipswich. Oh.

“What council district?”

Are you kidding me? “I don’t know.”

“Post code?”

“I don’t know.” Oh, that just makes me sound stupid. “Um, no, I . . don’t know,” I offered feebly, bumptiousness fizzling.

“Okay. How have you traveled here today?” she asked with the tolerance of a well trained interrogator.

“Hire car.” She flipped a pad looking for a chart to find a special code to put in a box on her form and hire car wasn’t listed. With English as her second language, she was unable to translate. In hyper helpful mode and now anxious to just leave the country, I looked over her shoulder and picked from the chart “rental car” for her.

“How would you rate your experience in security today?” and she read off a list:

“Well above my expectations.

Above my expectations.

Neither above nor below my expectations.

Below my expectations.

Bloody awful.”

No, she didn’t say that last one on the list. Perusing the list I couldn’t see a suitable expression for my security experience so dithered for a bit then chose the middle, non-committal answer.

“Why have you chosen that answer?” Ah, here we go.

“I felt rushed when my belongings came through security and there wasn’t enough space to put my things away and the security person wasn’t very helpful well quite rude actually and I felt intimidated and harassed and I just, well, I . . . . ” and I ran out of steam as she ran out of space to write in her little box.

There. Had I vindicated myself? The “strip search” room went unmentioned. By her and by me. And by Jimmy. He was oh so engrossed in his book. And pretending once again that he was nothing to do with me.

Shortly afterwards, we boarded our Air Canada flight for Calgary. Having left behind Heathrow Airport and its terrifying team of search and interrogation, we looked forward to the warmth and friendliness of the Canadians. They were friendly, but . . . . . .

. . . . . to be continued . . . . . in Calgary.

That’s where I should have gone! Photo credit: Flickr.com