Editor's Column: Finally, a passport gets used
July 3, 2008 · Updated 11:01 PM
My goal was never to fly in another airplane, but family circumstances forced a trip to South Korea, which at the time ranked number 102 on my list of countries Id like to visit some day. It was my first airplane ride since 9/11, so I entered the airport with mixed feelings of fear and trepidation. I really didnt want to be strip searched in public by the Transportation Security Administration.
The experience wasnt nearly so bad as I had feared. I admitted to carrying a small canister of pepper spray one of my wandering daughters had requested, and also a small pocket knife. I couldnt imagine spending seven days without a knife, without which no modern package can be opened. The friendly foreign woman at the airline counter said both were fine as long as I put them in the suitcase and didnt carry them on board. That seemed reasonable, so step one of getting to my airplane went off without a hitch.
Step two consisted of waiting in a security line, but we got there plenty early so there was no stress. It was a lot like the pre-9/11 experience, putting all metal stuff in a box to be X-rayed, and then walking through a metal detector. The major difference was that I had to take my shoes off and have them X-rayed, too, all because of the infamous shoe bomber incident that occurred shortly after 9/11. I had no problem with the shoes, and was just thankful that it was a shoe bomb and not an underwear bomb. And that was all there was to it, except for a couple of passport checks. It was the first time Id used my passport. I got it after our daughters started wandering around the world, figuring at some point Id have to go somewhere for some reason. The reason turned out to be a wedding, which is better than the reasons I had imagined, such as kidnapping, imprisonment or joining a harem. Kids today think the world is their oyster, and they can travel and live anywhere they want. I thought driving to Westport in my dads pickup was a big deal, but that was before airline deregulation. I still think it would be a better world if only rich people could afford to fly.
I had never been on such a long airplane flight, nearly 11 hours, non-stop. Passengers complained that our plane was old and didnt have individual movie screens on the back of each seat. We all watched Oceans 13 together, but my favorite part was the map showing where the airplane was flying. At one point they made everyone close their window shade without explaining why. A military guy sitting near me said it was to make us a harder target to find for any Russian or North Korean jet pilot looking for revenge, so I can understand why they didnt want to explain that to the passengers.
South Korea was far better than I had imagined. Gorgeous countryside and coastline, clean, bustling cities, extremely friendly people, and the wedding featured colorful costumes, gongs, historical reenactments and two red chickens. It all made the flight home easier, and this time we had movie screens on each seat.