Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Flying home

It's not often that a terrorist tries to blow up an airplane four days before my family flies internationally. As we prepared to leave Germany, we wondered how the near-disaster over Detroit would impact our travel experiences.

On Monday, we strode fearlessly into the Munich airport three hours before our flight. After checking in, we had to stop by the Zollamt (Customs office) to declare S's new German bike frame. The customs guys didn't particularly care about what was in the giant box, but they did eye S suspiciously because his passport had no proof of Abmeldung (un-registering) from the city of Freiburg.

We had to go through two security checkpoints in Munich. The first screening was for all passengers for all flights. We had to take off our jackets, empty our pockets, and set out our laptops. I received a boob-and-underarm invasive pat-down by a humorless security woman who didn't appreciate my well-honed tickle reflexes. Cameras, batteries, cables, plugs, cell phones, and suspect Lebkuchen had to be removed from assorted backpacks and run again through the scanner. We were chided for not placing small amounts of lotion and toothpaste in a resealable plastic bag, but were allowed to keep them anyway. Top Travel Tip #1: to avoid having them confiscated, put liquids in the same bag as your electric toothbrushes.

A second screening in Munich was reserved specifically for flights to the U.S. We had to take off our jackets and take out our laptops. I received a second boob-and-underarm invasive pat down. My shoes were patted down too and then sent back through the scanner. No one cared about the Lebkuchen, cameras, batteries, cables, lotion, or toothpaste.

We flew across the ocean on a comfortable Airbus 330. The captain had disabled the GPS tracking option on all passengers' personal viewing screens. Fortunately for us, the would-be terrorists on board were too stupid to know how to use wrist watches and the remaining-flight-time information.

We claimed our luggage in Philadelphia. Instead of paying for two baggage carts ($4 each--they're free in Germany), we hired a guy with one big cart. The porter had no clue anyone had tried to detonate explosives on an airplane on Christmas. "Really? Gee!" he said after I told him about it.

We had to yield a banana and a clementine to the Ag Inspection folks. They didn't make us put any of our six suitcases or S's bicycle through the scanner, as that would have been too much work for the porter. Top Travel Tip #2: Hire a porter; porters have connections with other airport employees and can call in favors on your behalf. Top Travel Tip #3: Bring lots of luggage; having lots of luggage increases space for stashing insect-infested fruit while decreasing the liklihood Ag agents will actually scan for it.

After checking our luggage on to RDU, we had to go through another security line in Philly. The friendly TSA guy was asking tongue-tied travelers for proof that their passports were legitimate; we assured him ours were good to go, as we had just bought them last week in Munich. At the conveyor belt, we took off our jackets and shoes and got out our laptops. No one patted us down, and no one asked us to open any of the backpacks. Top Travel Tip #4: Stick with American rather than European airports to avoid the hassle of heightened scrutiny during TSA orange-level alerts.

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