(typed this quickly on the plane) 

27 minutes left before my battery dies. Typing from seat 25A. A Portuguese couple dozing off next to me in seats 25B and 25C. So I can’t possibly move, and then rummage through my carry on for the computer charger. But I can certainly ask one of the Air Canada crew to do so, and I don’t really mind them going through my personal belongings, after everyone else has - especially those two women wearing the dirty blue gloves, which they use to go through the belongings of all the other suspect passengers as well. 

And while I don’t mind Air Canada crew going through my personal belongings, I do mind when they rat me out and single me out for further screening, in a humiliating manner at the hands of people who are not trained in the ABCs of humanly treating other human beings - human beings with feelings, pride and dignity. 

I also mind, and mind a lot when Air Canada staff, lie to me and take me for a fool. Of course you all know I went back to the counter, and asked the question: Did Air Canada single me out or did the San Francisco Airport security lie? If Air Canada did single me out, for the special treatment, did they approve of having their paying customers being called “secondary”? And if they do approve of that, on what grounds did they single me out? 

So check-in lady at the gate shrugs off my questions and says that they go through it too. I ask her if she accepts being called secondary and she points out to me that secondary means that the person needed to go through special screening. Special? WIthout thinking too much about it, I asked her why they didn’t call us “Special” then when dishing us out with this special treatment, parading us through an airport full of paranoid passengers barefooted? She should have seen the freaked out glances I got from the freaky looking geriatrics. Special indeed. And the dirty gloves and swine flu? And NO, I am not being a drama queen because I am not. 

But that isn’t my issue. My issue was getting to the truth. Did Air Canada rat me, as a customer out, as a risky passenger, who needed extra special screening? And if so, why? Why did they sell me a ticket and collect its money and then elect to humiliate people and parade me in public as some secondary human being? 

So I ask the gate check-in counter lady and she calls her boss, who explains to me that it is fine and that everyone goes through it. I ask him if he accepts being called secondary and he starts playing around with words, turning each and every single word around. Dude. That is my game and you can’t beat me in it. I am the master of turning words around and not you. So stop insulting my intelligence some more please. 

The bottomline is that they tell me that out of every flight, 15-16 passengers are randomly picked for screening. “Is it Air Canada or the Americans who pick the 15-16 passengers for the special treatment and on what grounds?” I ask. Here they continue turning words around and speaking in mambo jumbo, words which did not do anything to soothe my bruised ego and bloodied pride. Words which did not rung true. I just wanted some compassion and someone to tell me: "Yes, we do practice racial profiling and that you were singled out for being an Arab Muslim, with Hussain in your surname. Grow up and live with it!"

Instead, pick it up with the TSA, they advice me. And you are right, we were just this morning discussing how they use the same gloves to go through everyone’s items, bags and personal belongings, they tell me. Ever heard of swine flu? 

Fed up of word games, I excuse myself and stand in line to board the plane. They were just getting me more angry by giving me more information, which added insult to injury. And standing in that line hurt and the tears came rolling, first one, followed by the second and before I knew it, torrents of anguished tears streamed down my face, all the way down my chin, dripping on to my top, my lovely top which they don’t get anything like in the flea market shops they buy their secondhand clothes from. How low do I stoop patronising a company, whose employees not only ratted me out to the US goons as a threat to the US national security, knowing exactly that I would be called secondary and have my personal belongings rummaged through by someone wearing a glove she used to go through another suspect’s dirty underwear BUT also lied to me and insulted my intelligence? 

But it was either that line of humiliation, using an airline whose staff ratted on me, for no reason other than I am Arab and Muslim, and then had another bunch of staff play word games on me and tell me that it was OK and normal to be called secondary, while confirming that the airport security were going through my personal belongings wearing dirty gloves at the height of swine flu fever, or staying at an airport where I am considered a threat to its national security. Me. A threat? Haven''t those dudes ever heard of Google? Google me and you will realise you are harassing the wrong person: And for your information: I am NOT secondary. Never was. And never will be. 


nzm said...

You're not alone.

I have no trouble getting into the US, but getting out of it is a completely different story.

My name is on a "Special Attention" List because it's "remotely similar" to the name of a person who is not allowed to fly. I was told this by a lady at the Lufthansa transit desk in Dulles after she had to phone "someone" to get clearance for me to fly out of the US.

I'm sure that this person on the no-fly list also travels on a New Zealand passport, was born in Fiji, had the same date of birth as me and had residency in the UAE. There were at least 4-5 points of difference that would eliminate me from this list if they bothered to keep decent, accurate records.

In San Francisco, I get the dreaded SSSS on my boarding card 9 times out of 10.

When they came to search my luggage, I ask the screener to put on a new pair of gloves. Once, hHe objected, so I politely asked him to stop and call over his supervisor. I was being super-nice and smiling, as well as being very firm and standing my ground.

When his supervisor came over, I asked him what the purpose of wearing the gloves was. He said to protect the screener from handling anything that may cause them harm.

I asked him to consider it from the passenger's point of view. After going through other people's luggage, now the screener was going to go through my luggage with the same pair of gloves, transferring whatever germs and nasties that were on his gloves onto my personal property.

Still smiling, I told them that I had no problem with them searching my luggage, but could the screener please put on a new pair of gloves to do so.

They didn't like this being pointed out to them, but he did tell his screener to change his gloves, after which he made a hell of a mess of my bag and then walked away without saying anything.

I called him back, asked me if he was finished, said thanks and packed up my stuff and left the area.

Inwards, I was more than a little pissed off, but you know what? I was getting out of there and leaving that screener to do the same thing hour after hour, day after day, week after week - while I was going onto better things.

It doesn't pay to get angry and show them that you are upset. Remaining calm is the best thing that you can do.

Also - in this instance, the word secondary means that this is the secondary screening. The first is the x-ray, the second is the personal search. It does not mean that you are second-rate. If you believe this, then they have won!

Stay cool! It has nothing to do with the fact that you are Arab, muslim or whatever. I'm white, female, late 40s and I get SSSS too.

If you can deal with it with dignity, then you win.

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