Something I forgot to mention last time is the first thing that happened to me on my arrival to Los Angeles was that I had a digital photo and fingerprints taken. No, it wasn’t my idea, they do that to all non-citizens now apparently. I don’t know why they bothered because they took my fingerprints when I applied for my visa too. I didn’t really care so much, I was just happy to finally be on the ground.
After obsessing over whether or not my baggage would arrive in one piece, I am sure you can appreciate that it was with a great deal of relief that I picked up my baggage and headed out of the arrivals area.
Why did I pick up my bags in LA you ask? Surely they would have been checked through to my final destination you say? Oh no. US customs law requires that passengers manually take their baggage off the first flight into the US (usually LA) and manually transfer it to their connecting flight. This I did without so much as a grumble, since I am told Americans carry guns.
This connecting flight, I was told, was to Denver and it left at 2:30pm (the local time was about 11am). I entrusted my bags to “machine 2”. This was the machine I was told to leave my bags at after an attendant scrutinised my baggage labels. 10 minutes after doing so, however, I felt an irrational pang of doubt. How could I be sure? What if he was wrong? What if my bags were now on there way to Albuquerque and not Denver? Don’t laugh Albuquerque is actually half-way between Dallas and Los Angeles.
I turned around and tried to go back to re-check (I am a little OCD that way) but was way-laid by security. He convinced me that my bag was in the right place and I had nothing to worry about.
So, with that I walked out into the sweltering heat of Los Angeles. America is currently in the grip of an oppressive heat wave, meaning that I laboured under 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius) from terminal 4 to terminal 7. Now, I still didn’t have my boarding pass for the next flight. I assumed I would get it in terminal 7, as the kindly elderly gentleman at the help kiosk suggested.
So, I tried to enter into terminal 7.
“Where is your boarding pass?” I was accosted at the door by a rather stereotypical-looking African-American woman with her hands on her hips.
“I, uh, was hoping to get one inside”
“Door F, go to door F” she chided, as though I had suggested monkeys would fly out of my ass.
So, I traipsed over to door F and stood in line.
Now, there are a few things that annoy me. Little kids kicking the back of my seat is not a problem so much, but slow walkers and people who hold up queues for no reason really get my goat. There was this Chinese-American woman on her mobile, who would top and talk to someone in animated Chinese, all the while the queue in front of her shrank away as everyone else performed their socially agreed-upon obligation of moving forward as soon as a gap presented itself before them. This grated with me no end. I know she wasn’t really holding me up, I just had this profound sense that she didn’t feel as though me getting to my destination was quite so important as hers.
Finally, after enduring this circus for a good half hour, I was at the head of the queue. I looked ahead with interest to see what new American stereotype would greet me. There were many kiosks but most of them were unmanned. I wondered idly if this was the reason the queue was so long. Suddenly a little woman appears out of nowhere, wind-milling her arms as if to drag me along towards the empty kiosks.
“Next please, go to a kiosk.”
I looked at her blankly.
“It’s self-service” she continued by way of explanation
Now, I have done self-service before and so I just knew this wouldn’t work.
“Uh, you see, this is an e-ticket but…”
“Yes, well just put your credit card in there”
“Um, I didn’t book the flight using…”
“Then use a debit card, it’s all on the machine, move along”
She turned to the people behind me, ushering them onwards like a vicious fishwife herding her bewildered children into bed.
So, I stepped up to the machine and entered my visa. To my surprise, it displayed the name “AVERY, Stephen” and asked me to confirm. I said that wasn’t me and the system then told me I should speak to a customer service representative because it couldn’t do anything itself.
I glanced at the short lady, now badgering an elderly gentleman behind me. “Screw that”, I thought, and tried again. Maybe AVERY was a code or something. I said “yes” and then the computer complained it couldn’t book me in because I was an unaccompanied minor. Hmm, AVERY must be the surname of some kid, so much for automated.
Meanwhile the elderly gentleman was battling with his own kiosk (it was stuck on French). I showed him how to change the language and he inserted his own credit card with a great deal of relief.
So, I tried my “e-ticket number”, which failed spectacularly and prompted me to call a representative again. I eventually managed to catch a customer service representative’s eye and got her to begin the process for me.
She had as much difficulty as I did and had to call back-up.
In the end, she gave me two boarding passes, one with a seat (Denver to Dallas) and one without a seat (LA to Denver) I was told they would allocate me a seat at the departure gate.
So, I turned and left. At that moment I felt a pang of guilt. The elderly gentleman had made off with his boarding pass but left his baggage at the kiosk, vainly expecting that it would be “taken care of”. I had read enough obscure signs to know that his bag is probably still sitting there right now. I can’t help but think I should have grabbed it and tried to find him.
Anyway, I had problems of my own, I went over to gate E and smugly presented the African-American lady with my boarding pass. She allowed me access into the building where I was treated to yet another queue. Americans just love queues. They queue to see rock stars or movies and they queue to get 10 cents off underwear at Wal-Mart.
This particular queue was for the customs and border control people. I was prepared for this. I took off my shoes, my jacket and my bracelet, took all the lose bits and pieces out of my pockets and dumped them all into a bin along with my carry on luggage. I then walked through the metal detector, proffering my boarding pass in front of me as directed by the security guard.
It didn’t go off, I grinned triumphantly.
“This way, please sir.”
He directed me to a special little area with two foot marks on the floor. One of the guards took my stuff from the conveyor and started swabbing itt (my shoes included) for explosives or drugs. I asked if I could take a picture, he politely declined.
Meanwhile, I was told by another security guard to stand on the foot markers and spread my arms, he frisked me up and down like a pro, almost mistaking my pen for a weapon of mass destruction.
So, yes, I was “randomly” selected to undergo a detailed search, good thing I hadn’t been making any bombs that morning.