06 Oct, 2008

I travel on airplanes quite…

06 Oct, 2008

I travel on airplanes quite a bit, but I’m rarely searched as thoroughly as I am before I board the 2.5 hour flight to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. I’m running late, so I am jittery. Even when I fly back and forth between Karachi-Houston, I’m generally only surface-checked, but this time, I am pulled to the side for a “deep” search.

“It’s just random,” says the officer. “You ever been through this?”

“Not for a while.” He and his partner x-ray my body and she pats me down. Then, he begins to go through my carry-on luggage. He draws out one book after another. “Why are you traveling with these?”

I tell him that I’m going to be giving a talk and a reading at a university. He draws out my DVD, turns it around and then puts it back. He looks through all my papers to make sure that the name that appears somewhere matches mine.

“Now watch me closely,” he tells me. “I’ll be going through your wallet so you need to keep your eyes on me. “ He takes out my credit cards and stares at them one by one.

As he peruses my documents, I am aware that my flight will leave in 20 minutes— and I still need to get to the other side of the airport.

“You’ll make your flight,” he tells me. “We have to do this. It’s random.”

Another security guard comes over and starts to chat with me as he continues to search through my wallet and my backpack. She also assures me: “You’ll make your flight.”

Finally, when they’re done, I race through the terminal, wondering why they picked me this time. Miraculously, I manage to make it to the gate, aware that I am the very last passenger.

The moment gets increasingly surreal when a blond Continental Airlines attendant welcomes me on board and says: “Karachi? Shukria.” She only smiles when I ask her how she learned to say thank you in Urdu.

As I struggle to find space for my bag, I tell myself to remember not to wear my Karachi t-shirt (made by Daku) in US airports again.