O’Hare Airport is one of the major airports in the United States, the amount of people who come through the terminal doors is almost endless. Lucky for me, it is where I chose to fly out of to get to my conference in Minnesota. I have a love/hate relationship with flying; I love traveling alone and going to different places but I also have issues at every single airport I go to.
I honestly should not expect for anything to go smoothly for me ever, but for whatever reason, I never ever expect bad things to happen to me. Now, this time around, I was able to stay at my parent’s house the night before my flight so that I could be closer to the airport (they live on the NW side of Chicago and I live in Wicker Park) and also so I could have my sister give me a lift to the airport. I arrived to the airport two hours before my flight to give myself extra time to go through baggage check and security in case something happened and caused me to be delayed. Well, I’m glad I did that because this was one of the most humiliating things that has ever happened to me.
I totally understand the security measures that O’Hare has adopted to tighten security and catch the “bad guys” early before they do something “bad”. I fly often so I already know the drill; take your shoes off and put your belongings in the bin, stand in single file line to get your body scanned. It’s pretty prison-like if you actually think about it. I personally don’t like the body scanner because the thought of someone being able to see my naked body without permission makes uneasy. But without consent to this scanner, I can’t get through security, and then won’t be able to get to where I need to go. I don’t know about you, but I rather take a 1.5 plane ride to Minnesota vs a 9-hour car ride. Well, honestly, plus or minus a couple hours depending on who is driving. That being said, I will always reluctantly consent to the body scanner.
So, as O’Hare protocol asks, I walked up to the scanner, spread my legs, put my arms above my head, and waited for the machine to go around my body. I stepped out and both of the agents looked at the screen, looked at each other, and then at me. The male one said, “Mam, will you please step back into the machine?” I was confused too, so I said, “Okay.” and got back into the machine. This process repeated once more and when I got out, then I asked the female agent if the machine was triggering because of my piercings (I’ve had my naval pierced since I was eighteen years old). She told me no but I was good to go. When this happened to me, it immediately reminded me of the last time I went to New York City to visit one of my best friends, Ana.
Last time I flew out of NYC, I was flying out of LaGuardia, a airport in New York City that I have never been to before (I usually fly in/out of JFK). The day in itself was just absolutely absurd and unbelievable, Ana and I could not catch a break no matter how hard we tried. Her and I left her Brooklyn apartment three and a half hours before my flight departed but of course, New York City gave us some serious pushback. The two trains we took had delay after delay after delay. It took over an hour and a half to reach where we needed to go. It should have taken us forty to forty-five minutes tops to get to the stop. To add insult to injury, when we finally reached our stop, got off, and walked to the bus stop and were one mile from the airport, the bus driver wouldn’t let us on because we had to buy tickets instead of using Metro Cards (I still don’t understand it). At this point, I had thirty minutes to get to my gate and I was starting to panic a little. Nevertheless, the second bus driver finally drove on over and we got on, but he was driving so slow that I felt my hair starting to grow. I remember turning to Ana and saying, “I thought this was New York City, I didn’t realize we took the train all the way to Grandpaville.”
We finally get off two stops away and just start running to the airport. When we finally reach the baggage check, there are seven people helping this one young woman who had an overweight bag. I currently have fifteen minutes to get through security, find the gate, and get on the plane. I had fifteen minutes until the attendant closes the door and tells me that I’m just out of luck. Five minutes go by and there is still all of the seven baggage check employees helping this young woman who CLEARLY packed way too much junk in her suitcase, and I’m just standing there and beginning to stress sweat. Whenever I’m extremely stressed out or nervous about something, I sweat profusely, it’s horrible and uncontrollable. Finally, one of the seven workers looks up and sees that I’m in distress and my face probably reads, “PLEASE JUST TAKE MY BAG, JUST TAKE IT, OH MY GOD”. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions on my face; it’s pretty animated and people can read what I’m feeling (for the most part) like an open book.
So when she calls me over, she says some half-hearted apology about the wait, takes my bag, and before she could tell me where security was, I just took off running because I saw the sign on my way in. Now, looking back, I can see where I set myself up for failure; I was profusely sweating, out of breath, kept looking at my watch, and was doing that whole anxious-leg-jiggle thing while I was standing and waiting in line at security. But in the moment, I WAS anxious. I had to get on the flight because who knows when the next one would be and I had work early the next day. I’ve never called off work and was not about to because of some absurd last day in New York City.
Now I’m standing in security with ten minutes left to get on the plane, literally, I had ten minutes until they closed the door and told me to go kick rocks. My nervous sweat had reached an all-time high; I looked as if I just jumped into the Atlantic Ocean at Rockaway Beach and came straight to the airport afterwards. When I’m finally next in line to go through the machine when the X-Ray scanner was having a technical difficulty. I was so enraged that I actually was “one of those people” who yelled out “Are you kidding me?” At this point, I’m near tears and have eight minutes to reach my gate.
I run over to the next X-Ray machine and cut everyone in line and said, “Have eight minutes to get on the plane, sorry!” I walked through the body scanner and was about to grab my bag so I could start running towards the gate, wherever it was, when a TSA agent came up to me and asked, “Is this your bag?” I replied, “Yes, why?” She then waved me towards this secluded table area and said, “Follow me.” I couldn’t believe it. I was being searched. Was this random? Was I being targeted because of what I was wearing (ripped tights and a dress)? Did they think I was a drug mule? I can’t don’t even like taking my vitamin supplements to keep my vegetarian lifestyle healthy, let alone swallow drugs for some strange cartel boss man.
(Side note: I would never be a drug mule because I’ve been avoiding prison like the bubonic plague. I don’t belong in prison, I would probably get beat up and die or worse, I might get sent to max for "my own safety" and end up going insane without any human interaction. Also, I’ve watched enough Orange is the New Black to know that prison is 100% not the place for me. I like to think I would be like Nicky, but I would probably actually be a combination of Alex and Soso. Just saying.)
Of all the days for me to be targeted, today wasn’t the day for this mess. I’m not a terrorist. I’m a college student who pays her taxes and is a good citizen. Sure, I don’t always follow the rules, but I’m not a bad person! When I started asking the TSA agent questions on why I was being searched, she gave me so much attitude which made me go from angry to fuming. She wouldn’t even tell me what I did wrong. At this point, the coat that I was wearing was soaking with sweat. I’m panicking hard-core. I have a terrible feeling in my stomach that something bad was going to happen.
I now only have five minutes to get to my gate; the TSA agent patted me down and is now currently going through my whole bag and giving me the run-of-the-mill speech that she had clearly memorized. As she’s literally pulling my stuff out and throwing clothes on the table, she grabs my keys and looks at me. (Side note: the joke is on her because all of the clothes that I put in my carry-on were worn/dirty clothes.) She asked me, “What makes you think that you could have brought this on the plane? What were your intentions?” She was referencing the cheap beer and wine bottle opener that I had bought in Vegas two weeks prior. I tried to explain to her that the little knife on there was a piece of garbage and I bought the keychain bottle opener as a crappy souvenir to remind me in case that I forgot, that I went to Vegas and had a good time, which is what people do when they travel and want to spend their money on something stupid.
She didn’t laugh. Neither did I. We just somewhat stared at each other in the eyes for a minute, but what seemed to be for an eternity. I thought I was going to pass out from this stress. She started yelling at me that I should have known better to have tried something stupid and said if I “want to keep this weapon, you need to go outside and break off the knife in order to make it no longer a weapon”. I now currently have three minutes to get on the plane and I just lost it. I am now so upset that I’m currently sobbing and started yelling back at the TSA agent, “I don’t have time for that! Just take it! Oh my god, just let me go, I have two minutes to get to my flight!” She snickered at me (which made me even more angry and made me cry even harder) and walked away with my stupid Las Vegas tchotchke. I didn’t even care about the stupid keychain, I just wanted to get home to Chicago where things aren’t an episode of The Twilight Zone.
I ended up just stuffing all of my clothes back into my bag in lightening time and just take off running. People are staring at me as I’m passing by. I was a pathetic and messy sight; I was sprinting through the airport terminal balling like a five-year-old child, eyeliner down my face and snot running down my nose. The attendant was checking in the last person in line when the customer (flyer?) started making a fuss about something (which I later learned the argument between the two was about something stupid) and I was able to get in line right behind her and make my flight…to end up spending two hours squished by a very large man with a horrible body odor.
I didn’t even care that I was being smushed or that I wanted to puke, I was just happy that I was headed towards Chicago. Moral of the story? I learned to leave even earlier, I rather sit in the terminal and will never fly out of LaGuardia again.