Sunday, October 17, 2004

Fear of Flying

The airport in Volda/Ørsta was always this open, friendly place. It was small but felt much larger, as the only enclosed spaces were the ticket office/rest area for the crew, and the toilets. The windows opened up towards the airport as well as the parking lot, it was easy to see which planes landed and which cars came to pick you up. Passengers and their company alike could move freely from arrival to departure, and it was a meetingplace where you'd chat with neighbours coming and leaving or dropping off or fetching.

Notice the "was".

As I arrived early Friday morning it was an ugly, dirty building-space. Walls had come up to make it a maze, and sawdust irritated the eyes and lungs and covered every surface. The people working there were still as amazingly nice. Jokingly they asked if I had a lot of stuff in my handluggage. "Sure, it's packed" I replied. With a touch of genuine concern they asked: "Can't you check that in?" "No way," I replied, "It's a computer." With a smile and a shrug the man behind the counter let it go. "Then the plane will just have to be delayed. Hurry up and you'll be first in line." I had no idea what waited after this, but I kissed my husband goodbye in front of the counter, uncomfortable, and turned to go into the maze of temporary walls. I came to a dead end in front of a door that had never been there before. A security person came out and called the man waiting in front of me, and left the door slightly ajar. As I tried to walk through I was immediately told to go back. Beyond the door was a comfortably familiar waiting room, and reassured, I stepped back and waited patiently.

When it was my turn, I was led through the door and into an other little temporary space. A small room where I was told to submit my backpack and handbag, and to stand in the corner, legs and arms spread. The female security officer frisked me, while the male went through my stuff, carefully but thoroughly. He poked into every book and every wallet and pocket, his touching of the insides of my wallet feeling a lot more intrusive than the hands stroking down my body, arms, legs. But they were both very polite and very nice, chosen, perhaps, for their easy courtesy and matter-of-fact attitude rather than intimidation. Because there was none, just an air of "we all know why this has to happen, let's make it as painless as possible."

The plane WAS late, but not due to me. A gaggle of men who started out with beer at 6 am came just after me, having waited outside as long as possible before they went through. The waiting-room had been stripped of the television set and the artwork, probably to save it from ruin during the rebuilding, and we all waited in uncomfortable silence, even the slightly drunk men being impressed with the gravity of what had happened, the change in our lives caused by terrorism somewhere far away, and one lunatic with an axe - not that far away.

Our local airport staff hasn't quite lost their touch of friendly concern and personal service though. I was warned Thursday night, by a text message to the cellphone, that I needed to check in half an hour before the flight. Now, I know EVERY airline says this, but in Volda/Ørsta nobody really ever cared. We'd come strolling happily in ten minutes before takeoff, and still make it comfortably, Hence, the special care for the passengers, a little warning that the world has changed and the ripples have reached this remote corner.


Francis S. said...

But, how is it coming into the U.S., with the whole fingerprint thing now...?

Yesterday, the husband and I were watching Göran Rosenberg, a well-known Swedish journalist (in Sweden, that is) interviewing a wide range of politicos in the U.S. about the election and terrorism and security - the film crew was stopped and questioned by the police and harassed a bit at various times by authority figures. Afterwards, the husband said that he wasn't sure he wanted to go to the U.S. again (we're going for a week in November for Thanksgiving), and be treated like a suspect just to get into a country that doesn't seem very welcoming. (He's had two unpleasant experiences with passport control in the U.S., including one we had together; the experiences weren't that bad, but at the same time, the one we had together was a bit humiliating and made him scoff at "the home of the free.")

So, getting back to my point, did you feel the U.S. security was threatening, intrusive, designed to scare?

Torill said...

Actually, arriving in the States was not as uncomfortable this time as it sometimes is. Of course, the stupid questions on the idiot form and the routine about "what brings you here who will you visit what kind of business what do you teach do you have family here do you have family there what kind of conference" is as tedious as ever.

The photo and fingerprinting was not that bad. Last time I passed through they did not do this to white female me and my Norwegian passport, but to the coloured man in front of me. That was of course easy for me, but had a very unpleasant flavour of eliticism that I did not like. I was spared that this time, as everybody had to do it. A fun little twist though: In order to make the fingerprint technology work, the officer had to hold my index finger down on the screen, left first, then right. This created a human contact which otherwise is almost totally absent in this process - added a human touch, literally.

I am actually more bothered when leaving. We have all been told to lock the luggage in order to avoid having somebody slip things into it after it has been checked in. Now they say the opposite thing: DON'T lock the luggage, because if the security wants to check it, the locks will be forced open, leaving the luggage ruined and your things spilling out all the way from the States and to your destination. I have lost things in this process, even if the luggage was not forced open. A tip: make sure not to pack your luggage so full it's hard for security to close it. Although last time I flew out of the States this was a little better: they did the security scan and check in my presence. I prefer that to some unseen individual sorting through my underwear and not closing the suitcase properly after, just leaving a note: Airport Security was here...