Nov 13 2010

My Flight out of Tel Aviv, With a $60 Fee for an Empty Suitcase

Published by at 2:11 pm under Articles,Travel Blues

For years I have succeeded to avoid it, but for some reason, I fell in the trap. I am not sure if my decision to fly out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport rather than my usual starting point of Amman’s Queen Alia Airport was to see if things might have changes or some crazy sadistic desire to suffer on the hands of the Israeli airport security.

I started my trip early enough, leaving my Jerusalem home at 5am and arriving at the first airport checkpoint exactly two hours before flight time. I chose to drive the car rather than my 22 year old son with the hope that my gray hair would somewhat help. Not at all. While cars ahead of us and behind us were wized through, we were asked to pull over to the side. After handing him my US passport and my and my son’s Israeli blue residency ID card, the young Israeli security guards asked me to turn off the car and give him the keys. Not sure where he thought I would have run if he I was to keep the keys.

“Open the back trunk and the engine hood,” he demanded. My two suitcases, my lap top and my son’s back pack were unloaded and taken to a location where they went through a machine, opened and checked carefully and then a rod with a white piece of material on the top was rubbed all over the bags and checked in a machine that determines if there was any gun powder residue. Nearly forty-five minutes later we were released from this initial checkpoint with stickers in red on all our bags. I went to the British Airways terminal and was taken to yet another security point. After some silly questions, my bags were taken and put through the X-ray machine similar to the one they had gone through minutes before. Afterward, the same type of rod is rubbed around it and checked. Thinking I was done with security, I was taken to yet another location where my computer bag went through yet another check and a rod rubbing exercise. Finally I was taken away to a far away location where I went through a full strip search.

By now, departure time was coming close. I was escorted by an Israeli security officer to the BA terminal and, after a few strokes on her keyboard, I was told that I had to pay an extra fee for my second suitcase. The night before I had stuffed my belongings in one suitcase and took an empty second suitcase. The problem for the BA woman was not weight, but apparently BA had changed its policy for international flight out of Tel Aviv limiting passengers to one suitcase. I leave from Amman all the time on international trips with two suitcases, I protested. My protests and attempts to find a solution were met with a stern stare from the Israeli security guard and the clerk. He insisted that I resolve the problem quickly and she demanded that I pay $60 for the second suitcase while saying she hates to request such fees from passenger. Without any apparent option available, I reluctantly took out my credit card and paid the allotted sum for my empty extra suitcase. Minutes later, as I retreated my passport with the exit stamp and walked towards the gate, I realized that I should simply have ditched the second empty suitcase, which certainly is not worth the sixty bucks.

I arrived at the boarding gate, tired from the multiple security checks and angry at BA and myself. At the gate I was told I was the last passenger. As I entered the airplane, the anger in my face appeared to have caught one steward named Nick, who greeted me with a seemingly sarcastic, “good morning.” I replied to him that I was angry at paying $60 for an empty suitcase, he seemed sympathetic but insisted that he has nothing to do with rules and policies. As I passed through the business class I notice that the last two rows are totally empty. Since I was the last passenger, I estimated there was obviously no one else that would occupy these more comfortable seats. I calmly took one of those seats, stowed my computer bag on top, took my shoes off and sat comfortably, thinking that this is poetic justice. Perhaps this makes up up for my being forced to pay for carrying a used suitcase clearly not worth that much money empty. Nick stopped by with the Daily Mail. As a pretend holder of a business class ticket, I asked if he has the Independent. He didn’t. I was not sure whether it was the rejection of the right-wing British tabloid or earlier information, but Nick returned a few minutes later with a computer print out and starts comparing seats, finally coming to me and challenging me that this was not my seat. I admitted my impromptu decision, explaining that I was angry and tired. My line of argument failed to convince him and I was ordered to take my assigned seat next to the last seat in the packed economy section. So much for poetic justice.

I am returning to Tel Aviv in nine days, and already worried about having to go through the unreasonable Israeli security. But one thing is clear, I am not traveling from Tel Aviv again if I can help it.

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