How does one fly these days?

Published 6:20 am Monday, January 4, 2010

The Nigerian, flying from Yemen, trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines plane as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day brings back memories. This from my daily journal of two years ago:

“We left Cairo today and began our journey home…..Although our tour agency pays the hotel porters, they were looking for tips. So, it was at the airport. Boys are provided only to lift bags onto carts, but they insisted on pushing them as well and then demanded tips. I tipped one and then refused to do more. I asked our friends, “How do you say ‘bug off!’ in Arabic?”

“We had a long wait. I went for coffee, and asked for take-out. The waiter agreed, but put two cups on a tray and asked me where I wanted to take them. He followed me to where Ann was sitting and served us. I had to give him an American $10, and he disappeared to get change. I expected he would stay disappeared, but he returned with the correct change. I shouldn’t have been skeptical after what we had been told and experienced about Egyptians’ honesty. I gave him a good tip, deferring to the possibility of my not understanding how this is done.

“Inasmuch as we had seats assigned, we allowed ourselves to be one of the last to pass through the final x-ray machine to the plane. Someone came along and put a sticker on carry-on bags for everyone in line and handed a tab with the claim number. He didn’t say what he was doing, and I couldn’t recognize it. We proceeded as usual and put all bags on the belt. When we went to retrieve them, they prevented us and threw them on a stack. I didn’t like their handling our bags or stacking them, because we hadn’t packed them for such. I presumed Egyptair had decided to put them in the overhead compartments themselves so as to load them efficiently, which passengers don’t. However, they disappeared.

“I asked a flight attendant, and he blames it all on the American FAA. First, he said any bag with liquids must go in cargo. I inform him neither contains liquids, but I don’t point out my backpack has a bottle of water on the outside where I had put it to be in plain view. He had missed the obvious. This could have been a test by terrorists.

“On an earlier flight I was forced to surrender a sealed bottle of water during screening. As soon as I got through the screening, I bought an identical bottle and was allowed to take it aboard.

“The flight attendant changes to saying our bags are too large, although they meet specifications, and every bag in line is taken. This is the equivalent of confiscation.

“I object because I wasn’t allowed to place a lock on the bag or even transfer from it medicine I need to keep with me. If this were necessary, we should have been informed when we checked the other bags. It wasn’t done uniformly, because most people were allowed to carry on. Just as we hadn’t packed them to be handled by others, we didn’t have the identification in them as would be needed.

“Soon after the plane took off, a Yemenite announces it is his birthday and invites those around to celebrate. He breaks out a six-pack of beer. He had gotten six big bottles of liquid through security, and I wonder what else a Yemenite could get away with. This is also a Moslem drinking alcohol while loudly proclaiming himself Islamic.”

Our next scheduled flight is Chicago to Istanbul. After the incident last week I don’t know what to expect. One of the basic procedures in long flights is to use the washroom as close to landing as possible, there being no further opportunity for a long time. We may have nothing on our laps, but I wonder if I can hold a book high enough to qualify to be left alone.

Passengers are advised by security experts to report any suspicious persons, such as Yemenite or Nigerian, or even Norwegian Lutherans acting suspiciously. Then I recall what happened to those good people in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport who reported five Islam imams acting a good deal more than suspicious. The same government that makes these rules failed to pass on the Nigerian’s threat, and I think I know what a Yemenite can pull off.