One-way ticket to airport awkwardness; no peanuts

By Sujay Kumar

I’m not quite sure what it is, but there’s something about airports that I just can’t stand. It’s not a fear of terrorists or harsh security measures that makes me cringe after hearing the words ‘departure’ and ‘arrival.’ Then why is it so awkward the moment I enter an airport?

Last winter break, as I traveled to India I searched for the cause of this phenomenon by examining my time spent in a few international airports.

In Chicago, my mother and I wade through the millions of confused travelers to the nearest official and we ask where to find the luggage check-in. He points directly behind with “duh” written across his face.

After going through a maze-like line to ditch our baggage, we reach another maze for security. Here, I have a sentimental farewell moment with my brother and father. The dramatic goodbye lasts about twenty minutes as they watch us wait in line 20 feet away. When the first tear begins to trickle out of my eye, I’m suddenly bombarded with stacks of plastic trays and confusing signs describing what to put in them.

An official stops me when I try to walk through the metal detector, “Sir, your belt.” I take it off. Before walking through again, I’m pulled aside where I wait twenty minutes to be frisked because my flight goes through the Middle East. Not being Caucasian, I’m aware of common stereotypes, I’m just not flattered by the extra attention.

In Paris it immediately becomes a free-for-all to get in the immigration lines. My mother and I frantically search for our connecting flight, but there are no signs to help us. My high school French is only worth a “Je ne sais pas” and a blank stare.

We find a movable walkway that takes us through an eerily empty cave-like hall to our gate, which is in an oddly orange room that looks like the curry my mother cooks.

In Bahrain, the Middle Eastern airport is a shopper’s paradise that makes you feel as though you’re in a mall. What should I buy, a turtleneck or the Essential Michael Jackson collection?

Twenty minutes before we board the next flight, our gate changes to the other side of the airport. My mother and I start running to get to the gate on time while mowing down any shoppers and travelers who get in our way. Where’d Mom go? Oh cruel jewelry section!

In Cochin, India, since there are only four gates in the entire airport the security around them is tight. In front of gate three, a child shoots passengers with a black water gun. One of the security guards next to me speaks into his walkie talkie, “Tango one, this is tango two. Come in.” I feel very safe.

In Frankfurt everyone is herded off the plane into one long line for security checks. We’re all confused about why we’re in a line and why we have to show our toiletry bags.

In preparation for my frisk I walk up to the security guard and I begin to remove my belt. “No sir,” says the official, “Please leave your pants on.”

Back in the Windy City, the customs line for American citizens and Green Card holders is brimming with cheerful passengers. Next to me is a group of excited Chinese school children who giggle uncontrollably when the customs official welcomes them to the United States.

A beautiful moment like this that can wipe away any bad memories you’ve made while traveling and make you wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.

Wait, that’s not true at all.

It may be that I’m afraid of getting lost in a foreign country, or maybe I just feel strongly that belts should stay on pants. If there’s anything I do know about airports, it’s that they never fail to make me feel awkward.