Travelling without pockets

Ranee Parker travelling blog

What is it about going through airport security that can make an innocent person feel guilty?

Heading out on a flight to Nashville last week, my daughter and I arrived at the airport at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, where I was immediately flagged in line at security and given a bold orange folder to hold my newly marked boarding pass. The man with the powerful highlighter explained I’d have a few more steps to go through before I could board my flight.

As I attempted to function on only three hours of sleep and no coffee, I barely registered his comments but still managed to thank him before we carried on through security.

Isn’t it odd to thank someone for making us do more work than seems necessary?

In my sleepy state, my verbal gratitude had no boundaries. I thanked the stoic man who took the orange folder and asked which bins held my items for scanning. I thanked the grumpy woman who told me to walk through the initial stage of scanning and asked if I’d prefer a pat-down or a trip through the x-ray machine. I thanked the oh-so-serious x-ray machine operator as he grabbed my sweater while telling me where to stand. (Although, he did almost smile when he asked if I had anything in my pockets and I replied, “Um, no. They don’t allow girls to have pockets.”) And, finally, I thanked the white latex-gloved woman who rummaged through my bag, swabbed my belongings, asked me to remove my cell phone from its case and turn it on for her.

After it was finally decided I was not a security threat, I was given the okay to board my flight.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been flagged for extra security checks and, although I’m told they are done randomly, I’m really starting to question that.

Once, at an airport without the x-ray scanner, I was subjected to a pat-down and, as the woman verbally walked me through the process I was caught off guard when she explained she was going to run her hand up my leg, “just to the point of resistance” and then down the other leg.

Just to the point of resistance? What does that even mean? As I stood there with a new understanding of how Chandler felt when he went to Joey’s tailor, I couldn’t help but think how different travelling has become over the past few decades. 

I grew up not far from the US border so it was common for us to head into the states on a regular basis. Of course I was younger and probably not completely aware, but it seemed like it used to be a friendly hello and goodbye to the customs officer and we were on our way. I also remember a time I flew on an airplane with a set of steak knives in my carry-on bag (because, why not carry six steak knives on an airplane?) and a simple explanation of how my boyfriend moved to a new province and I was bringing him cutlery was enough to get me through security with a smile.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ensuring no one is carrying weapons on any flight, but I’d love to not be the only polite one during the process of determining I am not a security threat.

Coming home from our most recent trip, I became more nervous as we neared Canadian customs where we’re subjected to a screening process to prove we deserve to return to the country we’ve lived our whole lives. I mentally prepared myself for all the questions I might be asked so I had my answers ready in case a pause to remember would be considered suspicious. How much money did we spend? (often required to provide the amount to the penny, even though we Canadians no longer have pennies) How much alcohol are we bringing into our own country? Cigarettes? Firearms or ammunition? How long were we gone? Where did we go? What was the purpose of our trip? And the list goes on.

Worse, actually, is travelling through the U.S. customs where they really make us work to enter their country! In addition to many of the same questions we hear at the Canadian border, we might be asked if we have any fruits or vegetables (which likely originate in the U.S. but we are not allowed to bring them back into their originating country or we will be flagged as a problem for three to five years) Where do we work? Have we ever been finger printed? Do we smoke marijuana? (Because, now that it’s legal everywhere in Canada, if we say we have smoked it EVER we can be denied entry into the United States) We might also be asked to give them our cell phones or laptops if they feel the need to search our browser history.

So, even in situations where we’ve done nothing wrong, we can be made to feel guilty for taking a family vacation in a neighboring country.

But my question is: Am I any less likely to get through airport security or cross the border if I smile and have a pleasant conversation with the person asking the questions or running a gloved hand up my thigh?

In many ways I feel bad for the workers made to be rude and bark orders at people passing through their stations. I mean, I’m assuming they are told to not engage in polite conversation or offer a smile to the woman without coffee or pockets just trying to survive a 5am flight time.

Either way, I’ll continue to smile and thank them as they make me feel like a criminal. Because I’d rather be the pleasant person they dealt with that day than the asshole they wish had gone to the next line in security. And after they’ve put me through all the steps my highlighted boarding pass requires and I tell them to have a great day, I hope they know I really do mean it.

And I like to think they are at least smiling on the inside.