30 October 2013


Dear anyone who would be suspected of being from Middle Eastern descent – even if you are clearly not – who has ever travelled through the United States in the last 12 years:

I get it.


Paul had warned me that the security in the Israeli airports would be more thorough than the TSA but I was not expected to be grilled so early into my trip. I arrived at the Bangkok airport well before my scheduled departure time – three hours before – because I was in a foreign airport and I wasn’t sure how long it would actually take me to enter into the safe zone.

I was surprised when I checked all the departure boards, which, by the way, flipped between Thai and English every two seconds so that it was impossible to actually read any of the information, and did not find my flight. I ended up finding an information counter representative who advised that I needed to go to the far end of the ticketing zones.

At the far end, I was pleased to see only a dozen people in line for the El Al Israel flight to Tel Aviv. I was even more excited to see an express check-in line for people like myself who just needed to drop a bag…or so I thought.

The line was vacant so I gleefully wheeled my suitcase to the young man at a pulpit five yards in front of the ticket agents. Within 30 seconds he advised that I would need to move two pulpits down where a slightly older man (we’ll say my age) would have a chat with me.

The new man, clearly the area manager, greeted me and immediately initiated the interrogation. In the beginning things went smoothly. He asked where I was going, where I was staying and if I had ever been to Israel. No, I advised I had not, and stated I was going for holiday, accompanying my husband on a business trip, when he asked.

For the next 12 minutes I stood in the same spot and watched as everyone else in the area was quickly cleared and ushered on to the immigration area. Three separate times the manager conversed with an even older man, though not more than mid-50s, who was clearly the director. The director came over the first time and confirmed for the second time that I did not speak or understand Hebrew, and then they began to speak Hebrew as I stood mere inches from them. Thanks, by the way. I appreciated that.

They asked questions about who had been handling my luggage and why I had visited Malaysia, Indonesia and Dubai, in the past, all countries with mostly Muslim populations. I had to state the dates and reasons why I stayed in each of the countries; I also had to state on more than one occasion that I did not know anyone in either of the three countries or in Israel.

I was told they wanted to make sure no one had put anything into my bags and they made me promise not to let anyone give me anything to take with me on my flight. Then my mind started swirling. Why would anyone want me to take anything on the flight? Who was going to approach me? Did people often have other people carry seemingly normal things onto an airplane on behalf of a stranger? When the manager left me to go speak to the director 20 yards away, the looks they kept giving me actually made me worried that I would not be allowed on the flight.

They didn’t like that I was a solitary, well-traveled American girl who resided in Papua New Guinea. They did not like that my husband would be in Israel with me but was not traveling with me. I had to explain three times that he had already left Bangkok on another plane that he was flying.

At one point I was asked my occupation in Papua New Guinea. I advised that I was not working but that I was seeking work. When he asked what I did in the U.S., I told him I worked in communications for an aviation company. He assumed that I had people working under me, and I advised that I did.

“How many people?” he asked.

“Seven,” I replied, wondering where this was going.

“Seven….ah. And what were those people’s responsibilities?”

“Well,” I began, determined to fully answer his question this time (I tend to be very direct with airport people). “One person was responsible for media relations, meaning she handled press inquiries and big company announcements; one person was responsible for emergency communications – you know, how the company responds in the event of a plane crash or a crisis with one of our aircraft owners or vendors.

“There were four people responsible for an in-house employee inquiry hotline, answering non time-critical questions from anyone in the company, and one personal acted as the assistant manager who helped me develop internal communications.” He looked bored by the time I finished but he asked. If he wanted to dissect my response, I was going to give him every little detail.

He consulted with the director for the third time, came back and asked me for the third time where my husband was flying – specifically, the route this time – and on which airline he could be found. I had almost reached my I’ve-had-enough-of-this interrogation mark.

“As I previously stated, he is not on a commercial flight; he is flying a private jet.” The manager went back over to the director, they annoyingly looked at me and allowed me to roll my bag to the ticket agent, but not before tagging all of my bags for additional security checks.

Once I passed round two, I headed into immigration. The lines were long and slow but that part was easy compared to what I had just completed. The agent didn’t say hello, good-bye or have a good day. Nothing.

Decent Asian airports typically save the security checks for the gate, which, in my opinion, is way more convenient than standing in line with every person flying out of that airport that day. When I checked in at the gate, I was asked to go down the stairs for additional screening. Because of my initial interrogation I was not surprised to be checked again.

Downstairs I entered a tiny room where two men and a woman were already seated on a couch. I was asked to hand over my handbag and walk through a metal detector. Once on the other side, my purse and carry-on bag were taken into another room where I was told they would be X-rayed. I was down there for no less than 8 minutes so I know they were more than X-rayed. While I was waiting both the manager man and the director man from my check in interrogation entered my room and then the secret room. Awesome.

At one point a man came from the secret room and approached the two men on the couch, asking them to confirm which person owned the cell phone in question. The cell phone was handed to one man and the man was asked to turn it on and make it do something. Freaky, I thought. Cell phone bomb? The phone was taken back into the secret room for more examination. I was suddenly glad that I had not yet received my new phone; I would have had no idea how to work that thing.

After a few more minutes my items were returned to me only after the man handling my bags posed and asked the security guard how he looked with my pretty bag. Why yes, the owner of the bag is in the room so thank you so much for modeling. The items inside my bag were a bit disheveled and I was asked to confirm that I all items were returned to me.

Once finished, I headed upstairs and waited with the other passengers to board my flight. Once seated I realized that even though I had gone through additional security, the people in the room with me were of varying races and ages. The extra security did not apply to everyone like the TSA restrictions do. I did not feel violated. I actually thought that the extra security measures served a purpose, unlike anything the TSA does on a general basis.

Shortly after, I boarded a flight bound for the Promised Land. T-minus 11 hours until I was on the ground.

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