As a 27 year old girl flying alone from Auckland to Heathrow, some people considered me brave – I didn’t bat an eyelid at the thought to be perfectly honest. Travelling alone gives me a sense of freedom and a huge sense of accomplishment. I realise I haven’t travelled the world and I’m not a full time intrepid traveller or anything close – don’t get me wrong I’m not getting ahead of myself – but I have had my fair share of somewhat unnerving experiences in different parts of the world – the types of situations you find yourself in and only tell your nearest and dearest about once you’re out, safe and alive. However today’s experience at LAX was a whole new kettle of fish.
I was scheduled to have two hours in transit in LAX, relaxing and stretching my legs before the final flight to London. However to start off the prospective downtime, my fellow transit travellers and I were told a different process and a different queue to line up in by each member of airport staff we asked.
After the rigmarole of multiple lengthy queues we were nearly running out of time to get through transit customs before boarding our next flight. By the time someone of from Air NZ pulled each of us out of various pockets of arrivals queues, it seemed to be us, the confused yet laid back Kiwi transiters who were being spoken down by the LAX airport staff as if it was our fault we didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing… Pot. Kettle. Black.
Once we finally made it through the eyeball scanning, fingerprinting and passport control, off we went back through a new x-ray system before we were allowed in our transit lounge. Shoes had to be removed, jackets and jumpers had to be removed, every large item was removed from my bag and finally my bag went on to a tray – standard procedure really, I wasn’t concerned at all.
Mid X-Ray – they stop on my bag, I gave the officer a typical girl ‘whoops, what have I left in my bag’ look – all the while knowing there was absolutely nothing prohibited in there.
They raise me my ‘innocence and nonchalance’ with a stern “ma’am the bag needs to be investigated”. While an extra guard assumes position, they begin unpacking my bag item by item, swabbing and scanning for what they inform me is explosives. Meanwhile, the blonde kiwi is left standing in her socks bewildered yet rather confident and calm.
As each swab was entered in to the machine my heart stopped however everything was coming back green: cleared – so I was feeling ok. He then notifies me that as the bag is lined, he must slit the lining to get swabbing on the inside. So he goes in to the lining and takes a swab; green.
They pick up one other item; baby wipes, swab them and put them through the machine; RED.
“Ma’am, please place your legs apart and arms out while I pad you down” – the swab from my body goes in to the machine; RED.
My heart rate sky rockets, the tears begin to flow – three huge male guards, each complete with a gun, baton and set of handcuffs, stand at either side and behind me while 2 females, again each with a gun, baton and set of handcuffs stand in front of me; “Maam, we need to take you in for private screening”. I am escorted by 5 officers in to a tiny room and they read me my rights. I was asked to remove the top layers of clothing and they explained how and where I will be searched and padded. They take the swabs from my skin and clothing and again; RED; I fail. I’m literally sobbing at this stage. Travelling on my own, held up in a one m2 room in American customs was nothing short of terrifying. I have never been so frightened in all of my travels.
In all fairness, the officers, bar the female padding me down, were really kind and nice to me about the entire situation but the reality was, kindness wasn’t going to get me a green swab, or into the transit lounge – let alone on my flight to London.
Eventually I got the all clear and they explain it was probably my perfume. Luckily I was freed from the room and not condemned a potential aviation threat and was able to board the plane – completely missing out on the anticipated relaxation in transit. I landed in Heathrow, had no issues in customs and met James.
Such an ordeal, all because of my beloved Ellie Saab.