Because I have sleep apnea, I carry with me what is known as a CPAP machine allowed as an extra medical carry-on. This machine always perplexes Transportation Security Agency (TSA) inspectors, who invariably dismantle the damn thing, wiping it down with little explosive trace detecting cloths, leaving it to me to reassemble and replace in the carrying case while I am still juggling all my shit (my other carry-on bag, coat, shoes, change, and keys). Iâ€™m also holding up my still unbuttoned pants as inspectors urge me to move on to make way for the next potential hijacker or suicide bomber.
While no one was particularly unpleasant with us (most were and are generally polite and even at times deferential), neither is there much tolerance for confusion, resistance, anger, or even humor. It is expected that everyone simply respond willingly and obediently to each and every direction: â€śStep forward, please.â€ť â€śTurn this way.â€ť â€śMa'am, Stay behind the red line.â€ť â€śRaise your arms, sir.â€ť â€śDrop your arms, sir.â€ť â€śDon't move.â€ť â€śLet's keep it moving.â€ť We are expected to answer questions briefly and succinctly with no embellishments, no unwanted histrionics, and no unsolicited explanations. This, most will say, is as it should be.
To those who remember the world before 9/11 and before the millennium — a world wherein travelers were looked upon more as guests and valued as job security — the current atmosphere in airports is one in which people are taken to be potential criminals. Itâ€™s nearly incomprehensible. Now we are all suspects.
Note also that it is far easier to get out of the country than to get back in. On our trip out, leaving first from Indy and then Newark, the inspections were comparatively cursory. We each had two carry-on bags and only my machine was given any particular scrutiny.
The real challenge came when leaving Berlin. At the counter we were forced to consolidate everything into one carry-on each. Even my wife's purse, required impromptu, Olympic-level stuffing. Then we ran the gauntlet as described above. Upon landing again in Newark, we were first stopped at immigration. Then we had to retrieve our luggage and schlepp it to another location where they were to be rechecked for the flight to Indy even though it was the same airline we came in on.
On the way to the check-in we were stopped and quizzed by a fellow wanting to know if we had any fruits, vegetables, or seeds with us or in our luggage. We said no. We must not have been convincing enough as we were directed to go through a set of doors to yet another set of scanning machines into which we were further directed to place all of our luggage and other stuff for fruit and veggie scrutiny.