Monday, January 11, 2010

Reporting Live from Chicago OHare - Air Travel and Customs in the new age

Jan 11 2010 12:00 pm

Having purchased our tickets before the Nigerian passenger silliness we were compelled by terminal cheapness of spirit to use the return portion of the tickets to fly back to Jacksonville. the flight left this morning.

I am not going to waste any time on the usual searches imposed by the bureaucracy that runs our air travel system. Except to say the searches are more intensive and the guards far more officious. Hard to take at 6 a.m.

All bags had to be checked. The question as to what is an acceptable carry on is subjective and depends totally on the official (root of that most favoured of bureaucratic descriptors "officious") who is at that moment imposing his will, justifiably in his or her view. After all they need a grade 8 education and a 5 day training course to get their job..

Flying from London to Toronto to Chicago to Jacksonville with only a 1.5 hour layover in Toronto we were concerned about clearing customs in time to catch our plane. No need. We deplaned from London, followed the highly visible US Connections/Baggage signs to gate G (up two stories - don't worry they really are well marked).

You slide through a small door manned by a pleasant woman who hands you a Customs declaration form and enter the baggage pickup for US connecting flights.

Our bags appeared almost immediately and we carried them 100 metres to the Customs window at Gate H.

The line for US Customs for connecting flights was about 20 minutes long.

Then it gets fun. You clear customs. Then you are searched again -shoes off, computer bags opened and guts strewn over the counter. The works.

Then you enter the US terminal. And immediately line up to go through another search. This is the enhanced search.

A bunch of mounties with pakistani women helpers (like British mountain climbers they need their sherpas) subject you to your third and most comprehensive search. Here they give you the full pat down. They squeeze things. Lots of things. You do the whole "up against the wall mother#$#$#" routine and while leaning, arms spread on the table you lift each foot on order and the mountie checks your feet for explosive material.

As you leave the enhanced search table you are stopped by another mountie who wants to see your passport and boarding pass. Now this is interesting. We had to show the passport and boarding pass at the following locations:

1. Picking up our tickets in London,
2. Going through airport search in London,
3. Boarding plane in London,
4. Entering the US Connections/Bagggage area,
5. Clearing Customs,
6. Entering the US airport search area,
7. Going through the US airport search,
8. Entering the US enhanced search line,
9. At the enhanced search desk,
10 leaving the enhanced search area (6 feet from where I was searched enhancedly and after the mountie checked passport and boarding pass),
11. boarding plane in Toronto.

We had 1 1/2 hours layover in toronto which left us about 15 minues spare time.

This was for a connecting flight which seems to have priority. It was also Monday morning (this morning) and airports seem slow. OHare is dead.

So all in all not too bad; certainly not the horrow show we anticipated. Everyone was helpful and smiley. Another day with worse moods could have been a disaster.

I will say that flying with no carry one luggage permitted by anyone is a joy. The aisles of the plane are not crowded with tall guys poking too large bags into the luggage rack, there is lots of room for your coat and other encumbrages in the overhead and you do not have anything to worry about while changing planes. Removing all that luggage from the airport - once checked no one carries it around while changing planes has had a very civilizing effect on airports.

If our baggage is actually in Jacksonville when we get there we will call it trouble free.

Captain Curmudgeon and the BC

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