Sunday, August 13, 2006

Coming to America

On Friday I had the lucky opportunity to try out the new heightened red-alert-critical-awwooooga-awooooga-level security at UK airports. People may have noticed that on Thursday our plucky security services, with the help of those good men (and women) in the Scotland Yard anti-terror unit, thwarted an evil attempt to blow up US bound planes from Britain. And how were these evil doers going to achieve this - well they were going to use that most innocent of phases of matter, something we all know and love in it's many incarnations - liquid (and/or its slightly more sinister cousins, the lotion or gel). This frightful plot led to clamp downs on pretty much any kind of hand baggage on flights out of the UK, especially those heading to the US.

So I (and some colleagues) was going to be heading out to my scientific collaboration meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day after all this happened. After an hour and a half sleep on Thursday night (I was packing and trying to write the talk I was going to be giving at the meeting until late into the night) I got prepared to head to the airport early. Upon arriving at Glasgow airport we were given a leaflet showing the allowed items we could take on the plane, and were issued with our approved clear plastic bag (this weekends must have item!) into which we could place our allowed items. We complied and put our travel documents, wallets and keys into said bags and proceeded to check in our laptops, ipods, phones, books i.e. anything that might provide us with the slightest bit or entertainment on the flight. I didn't have to check any liquids as the only liquid I had were my own vital bodily fluids and I assumed there weren't going to require me to dessicate myself before boarding. Other than these extra restrictions on hand baggage the other security measures didn't seem any different from normal flights to the US - no extra questions, no extra-extra-friendly body searches. So fair enough we had to check all this stuff we'd normally take on the plane, but it's for our own safety and the rules apply to everyone right, we're all going to be equally bored on the plane. We'll actually this didn't quite seem to be the case. People still managed to get books (restricted), magazines (restricted), pens (restricted), packs of cards (restricted) onto the plane. At the extra security check we had before boarding they didn't seem at all bothered! So those of us who stuck by the rules weren't too happy.

The plane trip was as boring as you'd expect, with three rather shit films being shown. I can never sleep on a plane and this flight was no different. I ended up playing songs in my head, but there are only a few that I know all the lyrics to, so my playlist was quite restricted. Due to having had a band practice the night before we left, and one of the songs we're trying being White Wedding, I had the bass line to this on continuous loop in my brain.

By the time we landed (in Newark airport) it was quite obvious that we'd missed our connecting flight. As ever I breezed through immigration and customs - I never really had any problems getting into the US despite many peoples horror stories - the guy who cleared me through even seemed quite friendly and didn't have the usual angry, suspicious look on his face that I've come to expect. We then had to stand around for longer than usual waiting for our baggage as it was receiving some extra checks. We spent some of this time scowling at people who had restricted items blatantly showing in their clear plastic bags - the sheer cheek of it. When the luggage finally showed up on the conveyor belt there was a smattering of applause - well we were in America and they get quite excitable over there (some must have been itching to whoop or call out on some way). Surprisingly my laptop, phone and ipod were in their one respective pieces, without any dents or scratches, and having not actually been stolen by baggage handlers - hurrah! We proceeded to the flight connections desk to sort out some new flights onto our final destination. It was only 3pm in the afternoon, so we thought the possibility of getting connecting flights would be quite high, but apparently not. We were told that the next morning would be the only possibility. However, our airline (Continental) were going to put us up in a hotel for free. They also gave us vouchers to pay for dinner and breakfast. We resigned ourselves to having to spend an evening in Newark - it's just luck that Newark is only a short train ride from New York City! To be continued...