Thursday, August 10, 2006

Don't Horse Around With Airport Security!

Armed with my newly issued Belgian Visa, I made plans to return to Belgium via Houston, after spending a week with my family for my daddy's birthday. (My older sister flew in from Florida with my three nephews, but we were still one family member shy of a full tree, as my little sister broke her back riding a bicycle (yeah, she's coordinated) and was unable to make it in. Even without her, we were able to make the Griswalds look like the Cleavers, but that's the subject of another post at another time.) Here's how my return to Belgium unfolded:

My flight to Brussels was delayed in Houston three times. The three-hour delay threatened my international connection in Atlanta, so Delta put me on another flight, right before they cancelled my original one. As it turned out, I didn't need to worry about the tight connection. The new flight sat on the runway in Houston for over an hour, pretty much ensuring that there was no way I was going to make the connection to Brussels.

When I arrived in Atlanta, Delta had rerouted me through Manchester, England. When I tried to board the flight to Manchester, I was detained at the boarding gate because of a problem with my ticket. Apparently, Delta's computer would not recognize me as having cleared the boarding gate. At this point, I should have taken it as a sign and just stayed in Atlanta, but, no, I went back to the gate to have my ticket reissued. For some reason, the agents (yes, plural) were unable to figure out the problem. While everyone else sat on the plane complaining about the delay, I waited for "any available lead agent or supervisor" to make their way to gate E-15 in response to the page. Finally, a supervisor came and overrode the system, allowing me to board the flight.

When I arrived in Manchester, I deplaned and headed toward the "transfer" hall, where I was met by a vested airport employee, who escorted me through a back door, down some stairs, and into a holding room. He told me to wait for "Mike" and that Mike would take me to the other terminal. At this point, I should mention that there was not another soul in sight. I thought it a little strange that the airport was so quiet, but I was really too tired to give it much thought.

"Mike" turned out to be the bus driver. He arrived about five minutes later and drove me (no one else on the bus) around the airport to the other terminal. Once we arrived at the other terminal, Mike escorted me through a back passageway, using a magnetic key card to open various doors. After we went through a maze of hallways, Mike handed me off to "the man in yellow." During this whole time, I did not see one other passenger, nor did I enter the main terminal area.

The man in yellow asked me if I was going to Brussels and, if so, did I have a boarding ticket. When I told him that I did not have a boarding ticket because of a screw-up in Atlanta, he called someone from "upstairs" to come down and help me out. As I was waiting for help from above, I realized that I had been in the airport for at least 30 minutes and had not seen a single person other than airport employees since deboarding the plane. I remember thinking how odd this was. I also wondered what kind of flag must be on my passport to warrant all of the individual attention. I had never experienced anything like it.

Some lady from SN Brussels came down and issued me a paper ticket and showed me to the security checkpoint. I was the only person in line at the checkpoint. Like the seasoned traveler I am, I asked the security agent manning the scanning device if I needed to take my laptop out of my bag or take me shoes off. No, she says, you should be fine.

I walk through the machine without any beeps. Again, seasoned traveler. Just as I am about to pick up my laptop case and head off with my third private escort, I hear the security agent yell, "Wait!" She is not using the "wait, you forgot your luggage" tone of voice, but rather the "wait, we have a possible security breach" tone. Believe me, there is a difference.

Now, remember, I had been flying for the past eight hours so I had absolutely no idea of the security issues facing Manchester airport, but, when I saw the look on the agent's face, I knew I had a problem. She looks at me and asks, rather incredulously, "Is it possible that you have a horseshoe in your luggage?" "A horseshoe?", I asked, equally incredulous. "Yes, a horseshoe," she replies. And, then it hit me. It just so happened that I did have a horseshoe in my luggage, so, I replied, "yes." Let me tell you, nothing screams secondary inspection quite like a horseshoe!

I'm guessing by the number of supervisors that responded to the agent's "we have a situation" call, that the airport screening crew does not see many travelers with horseshoes. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that perhaps I was the first. I underwent a security screening just shy of a deep cavity search. During the ordeal, I really had to resist the urge to point out the obvious -- that I could inflict more damage with my 2 and 1/2 inch spike sandals than I could with a decorative horseshoe souvenir (It's a Texas thing. Don't try to understand it.), but I did not think that it would expedite the inspection process.

Once the agents had satisfied themselves with the fact that the horseshoe was for decorative purposes, they "escorted" me to the upstairs level. It was then that I realized that things were not normal. People were everywhere and they were just plain miserable. I chalked it up to all of them being British and didn't give it a second thought. Besides, I had no time to really ponder the situation, as my flight was boarding and I was too busy wondering why I was being escorted to the gate. All it takes is one deportation to drive you to paranoia!

When I landed in Brussels and learned of all of the problems at Manchester airport, I just had to shake my head in disbelief. The horseshoe, which I had planned to give to my European neighbor, has now become my lucky charm. If it were not for the distraction it caused in security, I'm sure I would have been "relieved" of the liquid items pictured above, all of which were in my luggage: a bottle of sweet and sour mix, 2 bottles of cocktail sauce, 3 bottles of Bath and Body Works antibacterial soap, Kama Sutra body lotion (part of a bachelorette gift for a friend), a bottle of A1 steaksauce and a bottle of liquid smoke (another Texas thing -- it's used for marinades and BBQ)! Given the commotion the horseshoe caused, I can only imagine the frenzy that a bottle of "liquid smoke" would create!

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.


Blogger woman wandering said...

Ohdeargod, I have missed reading these stories of yours ...

Congratulations again.

Truly stunning stuff :)

2:11 PM  
Anonymous JavaCurls said...

Looks like your adventures are just beginning. At least this time luck was on your side.

Are you sure you still want to give that horse shoe to your neighbor?? :)

3:22 PM  
Blogger Rachael said...

The story would have been much more entertaining if they had detained your ass, you would have become the wandering lady who had to live the terminal...oh wait...that was a movie ;-)

Welcome back to Belgium!!!

5:48 PM  
Blogger Elana said...

And just as I was about to organize your three-day walk, you're back in Belgium. Glad to hear you're back safely and the Liquid Smoke wasn't confiscated.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Manic said...

What a wonderful day of travelling you must have had.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

You are a magnet for weird situations. Are you willing to part with your lucky charm? Welcome back to Brussels!

7:44 PM  

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