Fear and loathing in LA

Long haul flights have a sameness about them. You sit, read, watch, toss, turn sleep, toss turn, stretch, queue, pee, toss, turn, eat, drink, read and watch some more, toss and turn. Every so often, after a long long interval, you disembark, sit in a viewless soulless joyless room for a while, reembark and continue as above. This every so often activity is 'the stopover', where all of the fuel, and some of the supplies, cargo and passengers get changed for fresh ones. Flight NZ2 had one in Los Angeles. Everywhere in the world, on stopovers, passengers are speedily ushered into an isolated part of the airport, left to their own devices, safely separate from all that is happening in the rest of the airport, and indeed the world, then speedily ushered onto the plane again. But no longer in the USA apparently. Since 9/11 the authorities have insisted on photographing us all and finger printing us all lest we do something dastardly, such as, I suppose, taking more than our fair share of the transit lounge instant coffee.

So we were taken into the joyless viewless etc as expected, but made to queue and were all given colored plastic tags. Then, after a while we were asked, by a young woman with a barely understandable Hispanic accent, to form ourselves into groups of ten and come forward for processing. Ten obliging souls did so, and after another very, very long while we were asked to form a second group. It was like that moment in a dull sermon where the preacher says 'point two', and you remember with horror that he confessed to having five points to make. Those of us still alert enough did the maths and groaned. Given the seating capacity of a 747 this process was going to take a little under 3 hours. Apparently, after 3 or 4 batches, this same thought occurred to the young woman with the accent, so as well as the batches of ten slowly making their way through the cameras at the far end of the room, we formed other groups who were led off like kids on a school trip to other parts of LAX terminal 2. I tagged along on one of these; up and down escalators and lifts, through corridors and passageways to another room much like the one we had left where we queued and were,at long last, scanned, digitized and stamped. Then in reverse, back to the original room we dutifully followed to where another young woman with another barely decipherable accent ticked us off on a good old fashioned paper list with a good old fashioned ball point pen, relieved us of our plastic tags and cajoled us to find the people that she had somehow misplaced. We were back on the plane about an hour and a half after getting off. I guess in truth it wasn't much longer than a stopover in a sane place, and it did give us something to do, but it didn't do a lot to reinforce the slogan emblazoned everywhere "Welcome to the USA!"

Los Angeles International airport is a big place. A jet lands from somewhere or other about every 90 seconds, so presumably this chaotic charade was being played out simultaneously in dozens of locations all over the airport. While it obviously keeps a number of people in gainful employment, I cannot imagine how it makes the USA one whit safer. Almost a decade after 9/11 the bombers still have the most powerful nation on earth running around like so many headless chickens, and leaving the impression in the minds of many thousands of brief visitors of an insecure nation governed by unnecessary fear and doubt.

So, my traveller's tip of the day? Unless you can absolutely not avoid it, take the other way.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Joann Ransom said…
Oh I avoid USA at all costs - fly Emirates instead. Goes anti clockwise, cheap as, great food and big comfortable cattle-class seats.
Jemma said…
Come via Beijing! It cost me slightly less than via Hong Kong last year and if you can afford a day or two you can do the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China and eat fantastic vegetarian food. There's two really nice pastors at the Ecumenical Congregation of the Good Shepherd who have a ready spare room!
Brian R said…
Oh I so agree. The USA has some (ok many) nice people and great scenery but I often wonder if the hassle is worthwhile. Last year I made the mistake of an itinerary that flew home from Europe first into Chicago and then I went to Canada and needed to return into the USA (San Francisco) so doubled the pain. This year I plan to go over via Singapore and back via Hong Kong.
VenDr said…
I wish I had thought of that sooner Jemma. Next time, perhaps. I'd LOVE to visit you in Beijing. Joann, and Brian, I agree about Emirates and with the preferability of routes through the Middle East. But alas, I was seduced to the dark side by the Air New Zealand air points program.
Elaine Dent said…
Finger printing sounds way over the top. So sorry, although some would say that is better than the pat-downs so hugely unpopular in November. Do they fingerprint for anyone from another country whose destination is USA? Is it because US doesn't trust the security systems of other countries?

Flying in the states has become so uncomfortable and inconvenient that many of us who live here try to avoid it. This country is so big, though, that avoiding air travel is sometimes impossible.

You smelled fear. You are right. There is a lot of anxiety, if not fear, over many things here in the US: the economy, loss of jobs, the war, "massive government," and, yes, terrorism. I see it in the faces of people in the congregation every week. Looking back, it all seemed to start with 9/11 which has so deeply changed us and affected our national psyche. Sadly I wonder if it has affected our ability to trust anyone-- including God. We could sure use your prayers for the courage to do the right thing and good thing and for some the Christ-like thing (as we argue over what that would be) rather than respond to issues,any issues, out of fear.

If you ever, alas poor soul, have to stop over in the US again on your way to somewhere, there would be a huge welcome in many of those tiny little houses below you. We just have a hard time reaching you inside the airport. :-)
VenDr said…
Actually, I don't mind the finger printing, and the photos and the retinal scans and whatever else they do, when I am actually visiting. It's your country and I'll jump through whatever hoops your law requires, and do it cheerfully, seeing as I'm going to be imposing on your hospitality for a while. It's time consuming sure, but I have nothing to fear from it, and am glad to be kept safe from those who do have something to fear from it. But this was for transit passengers, people who are not actually going to set foot on US soil. In terms of things that might have slipped through security back home, and which might have caused problems, such as bombs or concealed weapons, they didn't even look for those. I have no idea what it was all about, and the fact that it was conducted in such a bumbling fashion was not a good look. Not good at all.
Merv said…
you described my last (& hopefully I mean LAST) LAX experience & emotions to a 't'.
Leanne said…
My husband and I both avoid the US.

I was last there in 2002, and have absolutely no desire to go there again while all this madness is on. I just figure that, with all this stupidity, it's clear the terrorists have won - they've got the Americans running scared.

And I agree - I don't think it will make the US a bit safer, because I honestly don't think the Bin Ladens of this world fly cattle class Air New Zealand with genuine passports, waiting in line nicely like the rest of us!