For the most part, the flight from Madrid to Philly was uneventful, even nice. Because the flight was virtually empty, I had my own row of 2 seats, so I could stand, move, and spread out as I wished. Since our flight was expected to land at 3:35 ET, I stayed awake and watched several movies and tv shows then jotted some notes down in my journal. The airline remembered my vegan meal (sorry, Mom), and I was fed and warm and happy to be seeing my family soon. At 3:00ish the flight attendants began collecting trash from our earlier lunch/snack. They got a few rows into the service and then stopped and hurriedly headed back to their seats. The Captain came on the PA and said to buckle in.
I've traveled enough to have flown through snow storms, thunderstorms, hours of circling the airport, turbulence, mechanical issues and being rerouted. While I'm not a great flier, I'm not awful either; I typically say a little prayer under my breath at take-off and approach and trust that we will be fine.
The turbulence we hit tossed us pretty violently. A few of the overhead bins popped open, there were gasps and crying, and two women, one in the row ahead of me and the second the middle section of seats in my row, vomited. A lot. I have no idea how long it lasted, it seemed like forever, but it was likely 45-60 seconds. While Curious not Furious was rattling around my head, it was gratitude that I felt when we were wheels down on the tarmac.
Those of us on the flight exchanged knowing glances of our recent experience and made our way to baggage claim to get our bags and go through boarder control. There was some chatter and confessions at the carousel while waiting for our bags. However, everyone was fine if not needing to brush their teeth.
The Philly airport has an automated system to prep you as you clear customs. If you've flown internationally, you know that upon return you have to fill out a form asking questions like: Are you bringing in fruits/veggies, meats, cell cultures. Are you carrying over $10k in cash or cash equivalents
Have you been close to livestock or on a farm Do you have commercial merchandise for sale
Do you have items in excess of $800 that you bought abroad, and please list out what you purchased
Given my history, it's always the shopping question that I pay particular attention to. I wrack my brain trying to remember what I bought, when and for how much. This trip I knew that I was well under that $800 threshold so I made up some numbers, marked NO for the other questions and punched in my answers in the automated system. The next thing that happens is that your face is scanned into the machine and you receive a printout with your answers and picture which you take to the boarder agent to review.
I took my printout, my suitcase, my 2 carry-on bags and stood in the short line to talk to customs agent before dropping my suitcase back off at the flight desk for the final leg of my trip. I was standing in line behind a 20-something, complete with piercings, skateboard, and beanie and the patrol agent and her dog came over and the dog stopped and sniffed him. The agent said, "Sir, I'm going to have to check your bag" at which point the kid turned a shade of green. The kid drops his bag off his shoulders, and the dog walks away and the agent says "Sorry, nevermind" and turns to me and says "Ma'am, I'm going to have to check your bag." WTAF?!?
I am pulled out of line and a second dog comes over to help the first identify me as having contraband. The patrol agent asks me if I have anything in my bag that I shouldn't and I say "No." Then she asks "You don't have any fruit or meats in your bag?" F*%$, before I left the apartment, I threw 4 mandarin oranges into my bag; I had eaten one, but still had 3 shoved in my tote. "Yes, Ma'am, I forgot, I have some mandarin oranges in my bag."
I am now sent over to the Agriculture desk for a full inspection of my bags. The bags are put on a scanner and my carry-ons are completely unpacked and searched. The sealed peanut butter packs and protein bars are okay, but the 3 remaining oranges are confiscated.
I throw everything back in my bag and apologize profusely for my oversight. As it was clearly unintentional, and maybe because I'm only carrying enough for personal consumption, I am released with a warning and a reminder to declare agricultural products in the future. They stamp my computer printout with an official looking stamp and send me on my way back to the line I was pulled from. Curious not Furious, though again I'm not feeling furious, now I'm feeling embarrassed.
I make it through the line and head to the American Airlines desk to recheck my suitcase before going through security again. Whew, it's a lot to manage the airport with those 3 bags!
My heart rate begins to return to normal and my face is no longer feeling flushed when I get to the security desk. I hand my picture ID (passport) and boarding pass to the TSA agent, and who then says, "Ma'am you'll need to come with us for screening."
Remember that SSSS code I mentioned yesterday? It's also on the boarding pass for Philly to Atlanta.
At this point, I am exhausted and laughing; I know that the agents are doing their jobs and my choice is to be a raging bitch or to be kind and make them glad that they spent 20 minutes with me. For the last time of the day, Curious not Furious flitted across my mind and I noticed that rather than being curious, I was friendly and, dare I say, patient.
The TSA agent, still holding my documents, explains that once we start the process that we cannot stop until it's finished.
I am pulled out of the line and sent through another wand/swab line, and then taken into a partitioned section to be patted down. The agent has to go thru my hair, and I have to pull down my compression sleeve enough to show that I don't have anything hidden. My carry-on bags are emptied, again, and this time we find the half-drunk water bottle that I had from my last flight. That goes into the trash along with the last of the contents in my reusable S'well water bottle that I filled in the Madrid airport. I stepped out of my shoes and they are squished and x-rayed.
I am through with the personal search and waiting for the agent to finish with my bags ("Ma'am, do you have anything sharp in here?" "Nope."). Once she is done, she indicates that I can begin reloading the bags and then be on my way.
Except that I don't have my passport or boarding pass.
Somehow in the 20 minutes that it's taken for me to be inspected, my passport has been lost. I've got a swarm of agents combing the security area looking for my passport. Those freshly repacked bags are unpacked again to make sure that my passport isn't in there. I'm calm, chatty, smiling, and punch drunk at this point. There are just under 2 hours until my plane leaves, and unless someone stole my passport--which I suppose is possible--I'm good.
Therefore, when one of the agents turns up with my passport book 15 minutes later, I'm all smiles and chatty Cathy. I thank them for taking good care of me and the rest of the passengers traveling that day and head down to my gate.
Fortunately, that was the end of the excitement for the day save for the hugs and tears when I saw C & #2 waiting for me at Hartsfield-Jackson.
So, Rick Steves, thank you for the travel advice and the unintentional reminder that while we can't control our circumstances, we can choose our mood. It made all the difference for me and those around me last week!