Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the negative airport lexicon

Why do we hate airports? I've recently had this conversation with a few friends and thought it is worth a new blog post. I am a frequent air traveler for work and fun. Since my clients and family are about 18 hours away in Korea, I've got used to the idea of surrendering myself to what airports have to offer... but I still like to talk about it as I had rather difficult experience as a visa holder in the last 9 years of living in the states.

When I think of the word Airport, these are two events I think of immediately...

Jail night 2001
: This one explains why I dislike airports pretty obviously. I've been put in an airport jail before I got kicked out of the country in 2001 for some stupid mistake I made with the travel documents. I got lock up in an airport cell with a Latin lady who was wearing a bright yellow pants suit, long curly hair and lots of makeup. She completed the look with yellow high heels. I wasn't sure why she was getting kicked out of the country since she didn't speak much English and me Spanish. During the 6-8 hour lock up until I was escorted out by a policeman who kept apologizing for the way I was treated (no water or food) I sat in the cell filled with minimum amount of stainless steel furniture; a toilet you can't flush from inside and a bench under bright florescent light. The yellow woman sitting down next to me, would not stop LAUGHING. I was pretty upset by the thought that I was not allowed to go back to my home / my boyfriend / my life in Savannah after 2 month of backpack trip. I felt that I have no control over the situation and felt anxious. Well it was not the time to be sad and teary anymore. This yellow lady was going to continue laughing and drive me insane. I made her teach me how to count in Spanish. UNO.. DOS.... I say that was the longest night in my life. What followed this event was even worse - but I rather keep this event to myself and close friends since it is somewhat embarrassing to blog.

Minority among the minority 2004: Again, I was backpack traveling in 2004 winter and returning to the country. I was nervous about coming back into the country with my OPT card (optional practical training) that you get after graduating a school in the states as a foreigner. Well, you never know what would stop you from coming back to the country. As I was flying in from Mexico, I was in a long line with most Mexicans in the Non-residential alien line. While American citizens go through their lines quickly with their proud passport or green card, I was waiting nervously in my line. Right on my turn, as I have this fake smile on my face to look nice waiting for the immigration officer to stamp my passport, the computer system for the entire airport went down. Since there are lots of Spanish speaking people go through the airport, there were Spanish airport guides helping them out about what to do. Me, pretty much the only Non-Hispanic, Non-American, No Idea. Three hours went by and I finally went through the line but missed my connecting flight. I stayed at a near by hotel in Houston. I say to myself "What am i doing in this country?"

Trips 2008: trips went beautifully & flawlessly since I finally got my green card. Well I have to mention though it was after I got stuck in Mexico City for a couple of weeks as the Green card came out while I was traveling outside the country for work. But I definitely prefer Sheraton jail to the airport one.

Here are my summary of reasons why airports get a bad rep for both citizens and aliens:
  • To my friend's point, there are only the beginning and the end - no sense of the process. Time and space completely lost. Eurail trips would be the opposite example of this with beautiful scenery outside. I haven't tried Amtrack yet.
  • Artificial space with artificial air like chain fast food joints - no characteristics. It is like a gigantic machine. Walmart tops this category though.
  • Extreme example of public obedience - you open your bag, you stand in lines - obey no matter how many times they ask you. No naughty items. you will be judged. I was even sprayed with some unknown germ killer by a polite flight attendant on the way to Mexico from Sao Paolo in 2008.
  • Clear class distinction - the rich gets treated like human being. The rest not much better than being in a chicken coop for 18 hours. How about the members only club? Being a Delta Medallion member makes me a "special citizen" yet not quiet the king and queen like people with more millage. I only have a limited access to the "crown lounge" with my current status. This becomes even more obvious during the holiday season when there are delays.

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