Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Flying while brown.

Youngish brown guy with beard, traveling one way to the nation's capital (National airport no less), with two heavy bags. I was pretty sure I'd be "selected" for
"additional screening." This has happened to me, oh, twice or thrice now. That's pretty amazing actually, given how much I fly.

However, the boarding pass printed out without the telltale "SSSS," and the bags, though heavy (86lb total), were within the 50lb/bag limit, and were placed on the conveyor belt, no questions asked. I joined the long line for security at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

After dumping the bags, laptop, liquid-items-in-clear-plastic-bag, footwear etc. on the belt (one does this on autopilot now), I stepped through the metal detector. "This way sir," the guy barely glances at my boarding pass, and points to an enclosed glass area in between the two X-ray belts. Another guy comes and says, "Sir, you've been selected for addtional screening. Please identify your bags coming out of the X-ray." I recognize this TSA dude. He'd been going up and down the line outside, giving the passengers a once-over, it seemed. FWB means being acutely conscious of TSA folk, and I always get mildly nervous when one passes by. This one was standing outside the line, about five feet from me, and, I thought, staring at me. I avoided eye-contact and flipped open the phone to send a text message.

Belongings identified, I was taken to an area off to the side, surrounded on screens by three sides, and two other TSA dudes show up. Dude 2 starts doing the trace-explosives check on various items (camera, cell phone, charger) in my backpack. Dude 3 does the wand-over and the pat down and then goes off. Dude 1 starts up a conversation, very friendly, chatty even. "Have you gone through this before?" "Would you like to sign a waiver so that a female can examine you?" (Do what?) "Just kidding. We can't do that." "Are you in a hurry for your flight? Oh, how much time did it take to get up from Columbia? So, what's taking you to DC?" I have nothing to hide. I tell him about seminary ("is this your first time getting up there?"), about taking leave, why I want to be a priest, etc. And "where is your family? Oh India? Do you have a passport in there?" He goes through it carefully. At this point, I start getting a little nervous. In my experience so far, such "extra screenings" have focused on explosive checks and peering through corners of hand-luggage. No questions asked about anything at all. Why does he need my passport? I make sure to point out the Permanent Resident Card as well. "Oh, ah!" he says. Dude 2 meanwhile is flipping through a notepad in my backpack, then through my reading material (Mark Tully's new book) and closely inspecting my Breviary. What on earth are they looking for? Copies of the Qu'ran? Books in Arabic? (Oy! Did I doodle in Urdu in that notepad? I tend to doodle in different languages when I'm bored, or thinking through something. Oh, stop being paranoid.)

"So what kind of work did you do in South Carolina? Oh ... campus minister? Where? USC? Oh my neighbor went there I think." "What were you doing in Canada?" (noticing the Canadian stamps on the passport.) And so on. I talk in an equally informal friendly tone. A few minutes later, "You're good. Have a nice flight. Thanks for your cooperation and understanding."

No problem.

I take a few deep breaths and head to Burger King to get some breakfast health food.

What is this? A new TSA interrogation technique? Profile the brown-folk and converse to determine threat levels? (Maybe it's not new, and so far, I haven't aroused any suspicions. At least when one travels El-Al they tend to subject everyone to the same interrogation.

And, what if I were Muslim? Or, say, a Muslim student going to an Islamic seminary? Or what if I spoke with a thick foreign accent? I don't mind being interrogated ... but, I wonder how more "suspicious" folk get treated.

I'm also pretty sure that my check-in bags will have been inspected as well. Luckily for the TSA dudes on that assignment, I did laundry last night and all my underwear is clean.


St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

I'm impressed you rated THREE "Dudes!" Izzy gets pulled almost every time he goes through the line (CPAP, we're pretty sure), but never gets more than one or two "Dudes."

Seriously, the "random" selection system doesn't really seem to be so random. Glad you were able to maintain your cool.

See you next on-line once you're settled.

Dogwood Dell said...

If there was a wavier to be "inspected" by an attractive female TSA agent, a lot of white dudes would be getting tan right now.

Glad you survived the ordeal.

Gashwin said...

Dogwood. Have you seen the gals working TSA checkpoints? Miss America they're not! :) (Or, Miss Teen South Carolina, for that matter!) :-D

Heather said...

If it is any consolation, as incredibly white as I am, I almost always get pulled out. I think the fact that I can pack my medium size backpack to weigh 30lbs really scares them.