by Pat Whalley
British people have a weird sense of humour, we tend to see the silly side in almost everything. Sarcasm is also a large part of our humour and not appreciated by everyone, especially the US customs.
For many years I travelled on an English passport, the rest of my family had become citizens of Canada but, even though I truly thought of Canada as my home, I was reluctant to make that final break. I think this was maybe because my mom was still living in England and, even though we were estranged, I found it difficult to sever that final tie.
After 9/11, travel became much more difficult and crossing the US border always meant some inconvenience. I have cousins in Washington so cross at the Osoyoos border a couple of times a year. The officer always took one look at my passport and directed me into the office, to complete the necessary form.
The questions were ludicrous….
1/ are you a terrorist?
2/ do you intend carrying on terrorist activities?
- are you a prostitute?
4/ do you intend carrying out prostitution?
And so on for another 8 or nine similar questions.
One day I got really fed-up of the silly form and asked the guard if anyone ever put yes to these silly questions. He didn’t think it amusing at all to ask this and told me to either fill in the form or be banned from entering. If travelling terrorists were to answer yes, it would save a lot of trouble and they could just go straight to jail instead of causing mayhem. The form filling is only a requirement when travelling by car, at airports they have different forms of sillyness.
Once my mom passed away, I became a citizen and hoped that things would be a little easier. It was different but not really easier.
Several years ago I travelled with a friend to Arkansas, going through Vancouver airport. We had decided to check in early and then go for breakfast. However, I had forgotten that US customs are located in Vancouver, not in your destination city so, once I had put my bag on the scale and checked in, I was directed to go right through the door and through customs. I said that we were going to go for breakfast in the airport. No, this was not allowed, we had to continue through customs. I stood in front of the doors to await my friend checking in, but was told, in no uncertain terms that I could not linger there and had to go right through the door.
Once through the door, I was in a large room with a desk, here the clerk asked if I was carrying any fruit. I said that I had a banana that I would eat with my breakfast. No, the banana could not leave the room. Ok, I will eat it here, no, not allowed to eat it in the room. Feeling in an awkward mood and annoyed with the ridiculousness of the situation, I explained that it would not drop crumbs and why could I not eat it here. The clerk just said that I could not eat there as the room was on US soil. I offered to go back through the door and was threatened with arrest! At that time I decided to cut my losses, give up my banana and toe the line.
I went through another door where I was able to buy another banana, rather unripe and costing one US dollar.
When I first started travelling by plane, in 1970, it was quite an adventure. Passengers dressed well, high heels and dresses for women, business suits and a tie for men. This was not a particularly comfortable way to travel especially long distance, but this is what we did.
Checking in was part of the adventure and clerks were courteous and professional. You were warmly welcomed onto the plane and given a boiled sweet to encourage swallowing, during take off, thus stopping your ears from feeling the change in air pressure. Drinks were served almost immediately as the plane reached its cruising altitude. Attendants were very well dressed and courteous.
Today people travel in very casual, comfortable clothing, high heels and men’s ties are the exception, not the rule. Check in is usually a huge line-up with too few clerks. Then it is down to security, where you have to strip down almost to your skivvies. After going barefoot through the security section there are seldom any seats, so you have to hop on one foot while getting shoes back on.
Now down to the gate where you have a couple of hours to kill on a moulded plastic chair. At one time, if you had a long wait, you could stretch out along three seats, not in today’s airports, every seat has an arm rest so you are forced to sit upright. Too bad for the weary traveller who has to wait between two or three planes, he might have been travelling for ten or twelve hours but he still has to sit at attention.
Once on the plane, the overhead racks are jammed with huge suitcases that should not have been allowed on but, despite all the signs showing accepted size, people still manage to take two or three huge bags on board. If they are too big for requirements, then why allow them on. The aircrew are watching you board, so why do they not tell people to leave their bags aside and they will be put underneath.
Because of the huge, supposedly illegal bags, people boarding later, with one small bag, can’t find anywhere to put their carry-on luggage and it is taken to a different part of the plane. This causes the rule abiding passenger to be last getting off as he can’t find his small bag.
I always travel with a small carry on and a tote for my book etc, so I have lots of room for my feet. On one journey I sat next to a woman with three large bags, she could only find room for one bag in the overhead and spent the whole flight trying to shove one of her bags in my foot space. I spent just as much time pushing it back.
Oh the joys of travel.