Category Archives: TSA
As I start packing for yet another intercontinental flight, I came to the happy realization that I am now quite good at this. I know not to take more than one pair of shoes, two pairs of jeans, and save the weight and space for a few extra pair of BVDs.
In the last year I have been in five continents and if you want to get technical, I could claim two sub continents. India is known as a subcontinent, but the Indian people are fond of telling you that they are their own continent. It is hard to argue with 1.2 billion people. And then there is the Middle East. I live here and I’ll be damned if I know what continent I live in. This aint Asia, nor Europe, nor Africa. I have never heard of anyone calling this area a subcontinent, so what is it? I’ll just go with subcontinent for ease of calculations.
As far as air travel goes, the Middle East is Middle Earth. Both Dubai and Doha bill themselves as the cross roads for the world. In a way that is very true. A person can fly from Dubai or Doha to anywhere important directly. Both cities are home to an excellent airline. Dubai boasts Emirates Air, and Doha is the proud home of Qatar Airlines, subtitled “The World’s Five Star Airline”. There is virtually no major country that is not served by either of them, together they have the globe covered. On top of that Emirates Air just reduced their fares because the price of oil dropped. Name me one other airline that did that!
I live in the UAE, about a half hour away from the Dubai Airport. This being Emirates home base you would think that I would be loyal to the home boys and that at least the majority of my travel would be with them. However, as any of you who know me are thinking right now, not necessarily. For my trips to Thailand, the third of which I am packing for right now, and for our trip to Hong Kong last month, I take Qatar. Why? Well, simply put $. Hundreds of $’s less. More $’s to spend on tours and stupid souvenirs. To fly Qatar I must first fly to Doha, which is a very short flight, then change planes at the Doha Airport. Qatar is building a new super airport, but I have no idea when it will be completed. For now, all planes coming and going must park in the next county. Passengers must ride a bus into the terminal, and then another bus back out. It is a bit annoying and adds at least a couple of hours to my travel time, but it is the price I pay to save the $s.
Now that I have been a steady customer of Qatar, I am starting to climb up the ladder of their frequent flyer program. Soon I will be a Silver Flyer (please do not confuse that with Silver Surfer) and with a little creativity I will enter the ranks of the Golden Ones (please do not confuse that with getting older). As anyone who flies a lot and stays loyal to one carrier knows, stepping up a rank means multiplying every mile you travel towards the grail of a free ticket. Someday, Qatar will owe me a free trip to somewhere I would never pay to fly to. (I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me) I am considering adding that to my bucket list; “Get a free flight to somewhere, anywhere at all”. It would not be my first time to achieve this, but last time I did it, mining companies were buying my tickets and it did not mean as much to me.
Back to my inspirational moment that led to this posting. Being good at international travel means more than leaving room in your suitcase for underwear (clean and otherwise) and souvenirs.
Let us consider proper travelling clothes. First let me say that anyone who dresses up for a flight is living in the fifties. Today, unless you have to go to a meeting right off the plane, it is ridiculous. Think of flying like taking the bus, it will simplify the journey.
So what to wear?I’ll do this from the bottom up.
Wear flip-flops or sandals. Not all airports make you take off you shoes, but when you have to, it is really nice to just kick off the sandals. In fact, a lot of TSA types will just let you pass if you are wearing nothing but flip-flops. If you are unfortunate enough that your destination is, say, Minnesota in January, you can pack a pair of mukluks and put them on before you leave the terminal.
Pants. Loose and baggy. That way they do not creep up on you and cause a lack of blood flow to sensitive regions. Also, if you can find loose and baggy cargo pants, then you can carry some essential in-transit items on your person, such as a couple of power bars, Ipod and ear plugs, reading glasses, stuff like that. Yes, it means divesting your gear in one of those little trays before you pass through the security gate, but the trade-off is worth it. If you put all these things in your carry on bag it just causes more work for you once you get to your seat.
Shirt or blouse. Planes are notoriously over air-conditioned. What I find works best is a long sleeve cotton T.
Head gear. Most people do not wear anything. I always wear a ball cap, even when I am not travelling. I have found that this strange custom of mine is great on an airplane when I want to sleep. I can pull it down over my eyes. Combine that with the Ipod and you can drift into another world, while on your way to another world. The hat also keeps your head warm.
These days airlines have started stocking their inventory with planes that have the acronym ER at the end of the type designator. I.E. B777ER. The ER stands for Extended Range. If you look at international routes available you will find some TRULY Extended Range flights. I think the longest regularly scheduled flight these days is from Atlanta to Johannesburg. That is something like 19 hours. Dubai to Los Angeles is 16 or so. Just a few years ago either of these flights would have been impossible. You would have had to change planes and probably carriers in London, or Amsterdam. Maybe more than one stop. If you think 16 hours is too damn long to be cooped up in a steel tube at 38,000 feet with recirculated air spreading flu germs, well you are not alone. A lot of people still opt for a lay-over in some city. But the problems with that solution are scarier to me than catching this years flu bug. Let’s take a look at them.
Lost luggage. Every time you switch planes in transit you give overworked underpaid luggage handlers another chance to send your bag to Shanghai when your destination is Topeka. Don’t even bother wondering how they do it, but misdirected luggage is still a significant problem even though the world’s airlines are getting much better about getting your bag on the same plane you are on. That being said, it has never happened to me (knock knock) .
Another disadvantage of a lay over is the extra costs. An overnight in say London could just about double your airfare, considering hotel, taxis, meals and a night on the town.
Maybe all you want to do is get out of the flying tube and walk around an airport for 4 hours between flights, like the good old days. Consider this, count meals, that trip to the book store, some time in the bar, the cute souvenir refrigerator magnet at the gift shop that you would not have bought if you had not made the trip to the bar and before you know it your travel budget has taken a hit. Plus, that gives the luggage handlers four extra hours to choose which plane to put your bag on.
I always opt for the non stop on the ER. Just remember, you get on the plane, and sooner or later, you get off the plane.
Now about that recirculated air. Well, other than looking like a Tokyo traffic cop and wear a surgical mask, there just is not anything you can do. However, the air up there is not the only source of exotic diseases in an airplane. The plastic tray and the arms on your seat can hold and transmit all sorts of maladies. And then there is the toilet. I always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer and I use it before and after I touch anything. I think of it as preventing others from catching what I have, so I don’t feel like a paranoid. I also wipe down the food tray and the arm rests. Why risk it? Catching one of the worlds staphylococci can really ruin a nice vacation.
If the person sitting next to you is coughing, hacking, sneezing or bleeding uncontrollably, ask to be moved. Same thing if they stink, or especially if they are so fat they should have been made to buy two seats. If there are any empty seats, the cabin crew will try to help you, if you ask nicely. If you are not nice to them, about anything at all, they will not be nice to you, about anything at all. Frankly I think it is pretty shitty job which I would never do. Nobody tips you and some passengers can be real jerks.
Always carry a pen with you because you will need to fill out one of those immigration forms before you stand in the long line to have your passport inspected. Borrowing a pen from another (read: better prepared) passenger is embarrassing and brands you as a novice.
Many people will go to the trouble of finding the local currency exchange and buying Rupees (whatever) before they leave home. I wonder if they have ever heard of an ATM machine? Also, I just can’t understand why anyone uses travelers checks these days. These must be the same people who dress up for the flight. Hello? Eisenhower is not President anymore.
Thats it for today. I am off for Thailand now. All packed in my style, which means I probably forgot some stuff. My next blog will be from Chiang Mai. Stay tuned, tell a friend and please make a comment. Even if you do not know me, just tell me what you think about this post, even if you think it stinks like the guy who sat next to you on your last flight.
I am typing away in the airport restaurant. This is the only place in Nepal where the prices were at all western. Even the cigs in the “duty free” were twice as much as they are in the streets of Kathmandu. They have slot machines here, but my last Rupees are going into the Red Cross Nepal donation box.
We took our last walk through Themal this morning. I will miss the place. Especially now that all the Tiger Balm and flute vendors know my mantra, no No NO! I did buy two things I wanted from Nepal. One is a game that is found only in Nepal. It is called Bagha Chal. It resembles chess or checkers. The pieces are tigers and goats. Four tigers and and twenty goats. The player with the goats is on the defensive against the player with the tigers. Duh. You can Google it and actually play on-line. I hope to find someone willing to play it with me.
I also bought myself a turquoise ring. Turquoise is found in the Himal, in abundance. It is as good looking as turquoise from Arizona. The stone is set in a nice Nepali design.
Mary Ann bought teas and spices, as usual, her purchase were wiser than mine.
Then we set off for the airport. The Kathmandu International airport serves many airlines. You can fly direct to India (of course) Tibet, Bhutan (two places I reserve the right to visit someday) Thailand, all over Europe and of course, the Middle East. The flights to everywhere other than the ME are for tourism. The flights to the ME are mostly for laborers. On the flight over we were in the plane with a couple hundred Nepalese all happy and animated. Going back it was a sad contingent of people not looking forward to the next year. I know how they feel. When I worked in the Arctic it was the same thing. Flying south the planes were party zoos. Going north was like that Air Force One November ’63 flight out of Dallas must have been.
Nepalese security makes TSA look really lame. When you enter the airport in Nepal, before you even check in, your checked baggage is sent thru an x-ray machine, your carry on is searched, and then men and women are sent to different lines for a serious pat-down. Then you go to the counter for your boarding pass and to check your bags. The bags are x-rayed again. You proceed to a pre-boarding waiting area with restaurants, duty free and slot machines. Before you can get into that area, your carry on is checked, again, and you are patted down, again. These are not light pat downs. These guys have a fetish.
Then, when your flight is called, they get serious. I stood in line behind an older gentleman from Chile. He was traveling with a group of Chileans. We had chosen the most gung-ho checker in the history of flight security. He made the Chilean empty his carry-on knapsack. He then proceeded to open the toiletries bags and do things like sniff the deodorant and the cologne. Then he reached a clearly labeled plastic bottle with a white cream inside, he asked the man “What is this?”
“Face cream” said the man.
“Put some on” said the guard.
He squeezed a glob on his palm and rubbed it onto his face. This pleased the security guard. He went back to work. He pulled out a bag of nuts.
“What are these? He asked.
The Chilean, by now a bit flabbergasted, and almost late for his flight to Paris, replied like the General in charge of the 101st at Bastogne, NUTS!
The guard opened the baggies and took a few out, handed them to the man and said “Eat these”.
The Chilean was a well behaved man and obviously well travelled. He knew better than to argue, and munched down. I truly doubt they were hashish made to look like nuts. If they were, this old man had a great fight to Paris!
They went back and forth for a few more minutes. I was in no hurry and had nothing to hide so I just watched. When the guard escorted the man to the next pat-down, I stepped up to the table and completely emptied my bag. Laptop, laptop battery, camera, video camera, extra batteries, various electrical chords and chargers, a couple of pens, a pad of paper, and my sunglasses. Yeah, I travel light, ok? I took absolutely everything out of individual cases, even my sunglasses. The only thing I thought would be confiscated was the tiniest pair of scissors ever made, so I put them over on the side away from my passable items.
First he picked up my knapsack and felt every seam and inspected every side pocket.
Then he picked up my lap top battery which resembles a pipe-bomb.
“What is this?”
He watched as I attached it to my laptop.
“See, battery, makes laptop go zoom zoom”
He inspected all my other electronics like a cave man would inspect a mirror. Then he spotted my tiny little scissors.
“Ahhh, this no good. This no go” he said with a triumphant air.
“OK” I said. “No good, no go” and he was done. He had won. He had found something.
I carefully packed up my bag. Then I looked over at the woman’s line. The Chilean women were getting agitated at the guards inspecting their toiletries and showing it. I found Mary Ann. Sure enough; they found her diabetes medicines and syringes. Oh Boy, this should be good. Mary Ann carries a letter from her doctor about the medicines, and she never carries on more than she should need for a flight. She handed the letter to the inspector. The inspector had to go get a supervisor. I was all ready to intervene, but the inspector came over and poked his fingers with the needles (really a dumb move if you ask me) and then let her go.
We went to the boarding area. Before we got on the bus that takes you across the tarmac to the plane, you guessed it, one more pat down.
All clear, and on our way. At last.
Only one reader has asked for the post on the Kama Sutra. I would expect him too, the old Randy guy he is ;-). So unless more of you ask to see it, along with the story I have written about it, I will just email it to him. You want it? Ask for it!