I can be pretty cheap when I need to be. Take for example my last night in Israel. As I mentioned before, I had a flight out of Tel Aviv, and didn't really want to spend money on a bad hostel for one night. Especially when I have a flight in the morning. So I did what has become fairly routine for me in situations like this - I spent the night in the airport.
It's really not that bad. The trick is to find a busy airport with lots of international flights that depart and arrive at all hours of the nights. If you have your bags with you, you can just find a vacant corner or a nice long straight bench and make yourself a little bed. It's "kind of" fun... In small doses.
Anyway, I got up around 5:30 am. I had positioned myself near a large bank of windows, and the sun was starting to rise. After going to the bathroom to splash some water on my face and brush my teeth, I went out to the main departure lobby to take advantage of the free wireless internet access. My flight wasn't until 10:40, so I had a little time to kill yet. I was in the middle of a Google chat with my friend Christy when I thought I heard some whistles blowing. I looked around and saw a couple people in uniforms waving at some passengers, but no one seemed overly traumatized. I resumed my typing for about 60 seconds -apparently the time needed for the security officers to reach me. In broken English, they told me I had to pack up my stuff and go outside. "Immediately". Ummm. Ok.
So I had to shove all my crap into my bag and pull it outside with all the other travelers. As I did, I noticed a few security guys running around crazily, talking on the radio to someone about something very loudly. Literally as soon as I stepped foot outside, the call came over the PA system that everything was fine, and we could go back in. Right. Got the blood pumping at 6:00 in the morning anyway.
The bummer about sleeping in airports when you actually have a flight (yes, sometimes I'll sleep in an airport when I don't have one - that's even more fun), is that they won't let you check in until three hours before the flight. It means you have to carry all your crap around with you the whole time. So, As soon as 7:30 am rolled around, I was in line.
As I proceeded, I was greeted by a security guard, who took my passport, and asked me a few preliminary questions - Where am I going, have I kept my luggage with me, etc. About five questions in, he was replaced by a young, fairly attractive girl probably about 25-28 or so. She had her hair pulled back in a pony tail, and wore the traditional security uniform everyone else had on. She was pleasant enough and picked up the questions where the dude left off. After adding about three or four more, she asked me to come with her to the security desk. Looking back, there was absolutely nothing in the line of questioning of either of these two folks that would have set off any alarms. They were completely benign, boring questions. And, my bags hadn't gone through any equipment yet. For whatever reason, I won the security lottery today.
We strolled over to the security desk, where she stood on the opposite side of a small counter and asked me a couple of the same questions over again. I of course answered without trying to sound annoyed. Once we had all the basics covered for a second time, she slowly initiated what turned out to be an inquisition of old. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, this gal was likely a church leader in Salem in the late 1600s. Over the next hour we covered:
- How long I'd been traveling
- Why I decided to travel
- What prompted me to travel
- Why I liked traveling
- Every country in my trip in order
- Every airline I flew
- How I booked my trip to Antarctica
- How many friends I made while traveling
- Why I decided to write down the email addresses of some of them
- How much the trip cost
- How I was getting money
- Why I carried a journal
- Why I wanted to visit Israel
- Where I went in Israel (including the name of the walking tour company, the guide and a receipt)
- Why didn't you want your passport stamped by Israel
- Blah, blah, blah...
This went on and on. She would mix in a little attempt at humor every so often, which made things go from bad to worse. Unfortunately I mentioned I was keeping a website to stay in touch with friends and family. This brought about a whole new set of questions, including a request to see the site.
So, we passed 8:30 am, and I could tell we were just wrapping up the questions. I grabbed my bags and was guided toward the x-ray machines. I put them through and waited for them on the other side. First the big bag, then the laptop, then the laptop bag... Oh wait - the laptop bag "didn't pass". So, it had to go through again. Sure thing. It came through, and as I reached to grab it, another security gal came over and said I needed to bring all my stuff back over to the security desk. Awesome.
What followed next was a systematic dismantling and undressing of everything in my world. They took everything, and I mean EVERYTHING out of every pocket, every pouch, every sleeve. Now, fortunately I have absolutely nothing to hide, so I wasn't too concerned, just frustrated. There's absolutely nothing you can do when these weird people are pulling your underwear out and showing it to others. I was relegated to sitting on the counter and hoping they didn't break anything.
It didn't make me feel much better, but on the other side of the counter they had two smaller, older European gals in the same situation. At least I wasn't the only supposed terrorist in the airport.
9:00 came and went. They were satisfied with my larger bag which contained only clothes and such. Now, after traveling for nearly 6 months, I know how to pack a bag - and more importantly, I know how to pack my bag. I saw them attempt to start shoving stuff back into it, and I offered to do it for them. No, no, not a good idea. They said they'd do it. Ok fine. And, as I feared, they managed to have stuff spilling out of the top, and the sides... Jackasses. I also noticed that the little gal that had been grilling me with questions was no where to be found. Nor were any of the other security people that were there a few minutes ago. They must rotate them around, as I saw them down at another security desk, hassling someone else.
Meanwhile, two other crack staffers were working on my laptop bag, which has a collection of various electronic equipment ranging from an iPod to an external memory card reader to a DVD of Superman Returns purchased in Ecuador. They had everything out on the counter and were rubbing those little plastic sticks with replaceable cloth ends over everything. They also investigated my new camera, asking me stupid questions like, this works, correct? Well, let's turn it on and I'll take a picture of you shmucks to put on my website.
At 9:15, they sent someone over to check in to my flight for me, which probably wasn't a good sign that I'd be leaving anytime soon. I'd seen the Turkish Air counters fill up with people then start to die off as I sat helpless on a countertop in the security area. About then the "manager" came over and said I could select some stuff to carry on with me.
Me: How about we put all this stuff in that bag there and I carry that on?
Him: Sorry sir, we cannot allow you to carry on this bag.
Me: Why not?
Him: We have our reasons.
Me: Can you expand on that a little?
Me: Oh, Ok... Well, I'll take my laptop then, as I don't want that checked in.
Him: Sorry sir, we have to check the laptop as well.
Me: Well, at least put it in the bag, it's designed to protect it.
Him: Sorry sir, we can't allow the laptop and bag to travel together. Don't worry; we'll wrap it up for you.
Me: Gee thanks you jackass. So what is my recourse when I get my laptop back broken in Istanbul?
Him: The same as it would be with anything else sir, you take it up with the Airline.
Me: Son of a bitch.
I was about to argue more when another guy came up and stood beside me. The manager then asked me to follow him to the "personal security room". The what? Where?
So, I had to leave all my stuff sitting there on the security counter while I followed some young dude through the check in counters, through a couple security doors, and into the bowels of the airport. I figured if this was a casino, this is where they'd break my kneecap, or shoot me through the hand or whatever. However, when I got there, the two poor little European ladies were already there as well, putting their shoes back on, looking really pissed off.
It's strange, throughout the whole ordeal I never got really mad. For one, I didn't really have anything else to do - I was 3 hours early for my flight. I wasn't all that worried about missing my flight, as I didn't have anything in Istanbul I had to get to at any certain time. And, I figured they would get me on a different flight if they kept me long enough to miss the 10:40 (perhaps a stupid assumption, but it made me feel better). So, I didn't really have anything to get mad about. Besides, it was actually pretty damn entertaining, outside of having all my crap gone through by random people.
Anyway, we got to the "personal security room", which turned out to be a little curtained-off area in some backroom somewhere, where the kid (he was probably about 23-24) asked me to remove all metal objects - coins, watch, wallet, etc. and put them into a box. He asked me to take my money out of my wallet first, and then took the box away. He returned a couple minutes later, and asked me to take off my shoes and socks. A few seconds later I'm standing with my arms out to the sides in just my t-shirt, and shorts while this dude runs his rubber-gloved hands all over my arms, back and legs, apparently looking for some surgically implanted machetes or something. It was disturbing. Then, he got this little metal detector wand thing, and ran it over my groin and my butt, taking the disturbance to a whole new level. Finally, he said ok, and then gave me back my stuff.
When we returned to the security counter, it was about 10:00. Some new lady was in front of my stuff, spinning my laptop around in a roll of bubble wrap. She taped it up and shoved it into a white cardboard box. Yeah, that will work. You jackasses.
I then selected a couple books, my journal and my camera to carry on with me. Everything else was shoved into my laptop bag. One of the staffers told me I could take my stuff and go to the check-in counter. I grabbed my now three items, and looked at the manager, who simply nodded at me. I couldn't resist:
Me: "So that's it? Wasn't so bad. You don't need a urine or blood sample? I've still got a few minutes."
I was escorted to the Turkish Air check-in counter by the gal who packed my laptop. We stood there for another 10-15 minutes while the jack-leg behind the counter worked on something. He didn't seem too concerned. I just stood there and smiled. The little gal asked me what was funny. I told her I thought this would make a pretty good story to put on my website - she should check it out.
Finally, they allowed me to check my three bags in... Oh, just two. The big bag has too many loose ends - straps and such. We'll have to take it to a cargo elevator. Ah ok. Oh - you want me to do that. Ok. So, I grabbed my bag and followed the little gal into the bowels of the airport again, and gave my bag to some shady looking guy with grease all over his shirt who nodded an affirmative to the Hebrew command given by my escort. Yeah, pretty much never see that bag again.
By this point it was 10:25. She then led me back through the complex, using her badge to get us by security, and finally to the Passport control desk. After reminding them not to stamp it, I got my passport back and was on my way to the gate. By the time I Got there, it was 10:33. Fortunately, the plane was delayed for 20 minutes for something, and they hadn't even started boarding.
Three hours of fun with the Israeli Airport Security. The next time you have to take your shoes off at the airport and they let you through, consider yourself lucky.