Mini Travelogue 1: Whizzing through airports

During the month leading up to my travel date, airports’ full-body scans were all the rage. News reports, articles, commentaries and editorials were dissecting the inevitable decision to use full body scans at airports. How much will they cost to install? How time consuming are they, especially at already busy airports? Are they ethical? Is child pornography an issue? Is celebrities’ sacred privacy safe? Etc..

The questions were endless. The debate continued, but the one thing I was worried about was the inevitable ‘random’ profiling. Tightening airport security always comes hand in hand with passenger ‘random’ profiling. The extra security measures can’t be applied on all passengers, or else all airports would be flying a handful of airplanes a day. And just to ensure the direction of this ‘random profiling’, the man who reignited the on-flight terrorism scare by attempting to blow up a plane on Christmas Day in the US was Muslim.

With a scarf on my head, an Egyptian passport and an Arab name, there’s nothing random about possible profiling for me. A certain 2007 incident at the Los Angeles Airport (the dear old LAX) comes to mind. There was nothing humiliating or invasive; but if you consider waiting at the airport for 4-5 hours for ‘special data registration’ after 20 hours of flying and transits without knowing when it would end or even the fate of your luggage a problem, then you’d understand why I am not fond of that memory. Those that waited with me didn’t look Middle Eastern and I couldn’t make any concrete assumption about overall ethnicity or religion. But if darker skin weighed more than fairer one, this waiting area could have tipped over the whole airport.

But I wasn’t going to the US this time around; I was heading to Europe, where all my experiences in its airports have been generally ok.  Yet, reading ‘random profiling’ over and over again made this multiple-stop trip an increasing worry.

But it was fine. Seriously, better than I could have ever imagined. Granted, there were longer queues at the security check at the Brussels airport, but that’s probably due to the unexpected snow that day that led to the cancelation of many flights (including mine), which eventually led many passengers to go through security again after struggling to find another flight out. By noon, the security check point was dealing with almost double the number of passengers expected at the time.

The only hint of remote profiling was when I was transferred from BritishAirways to American Airlines, which has stricter guidelines at the airline luggage check-in point (not official airport security). I got the same load of irritating, useless ‘security’ questions as everyone else. Could anyone have interfered in your luggage? Why are you visiting? Bla Bla Bla. But I think I was the only one asked to show my press card, which was in Arabic which this airline employee couldn’t understand, when I said I was a journalist. I don’t think the Belgian in front of me or the American behind me were asked to show further identification. I could have rightfully objected, but I really wanted to leave the city and it was the only flight available.

But still no profiling, random or otherwise at any official security level.

And to top it off, as I was leaving London to Cairo, the bearded security officer at Heathrow handed me my passport with the typical automated half-smile, saying: “Thank you, sister.”

I still don’t know what to make of that, but it makes me laugh whenever I remember it.

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