Monday, August 10, 2009

Does Security Mean Secure

Yesterday I was at the Adelaide Airport with my husband. Even though we have been to this airport several times in the past year, it still always surprises me that anyone can pass through security. You don't have to have a ticket or even a photo id to enter the arrival/departure area. As we waited for Mar to board his plane we were discussing this, when I remembered another airport security story.
Mother’s dream of coming to Spain for Semana Santa was finally a reality. Our Holy Week together had been a seven days of overindulgence: gourmet lunches with fine wine, high speed train rides, shoe shopping, fried food in greasy spoons, coffee on plazas, elegant horse shows, beer in testosterone filled dives, high end hotels, purse shopping, late night flamenco in smoky bars, and bodega tours.
As I awoke in Madrid, at the end of our weeklong adventure, or perhaps the start of my mom’s long journey home, I was finally able to understand why
Easter Monday is called Lunes de Resaca in Spain. My slight headache could not be blamed on the lack of sleep-thanks to the all night revelers in Madrid nor the horrible pillow-but rather to a week of passionate living that can only be experienced in Spain.
My mother was anxious about post holiday travelers and wanted to arrive at the airport with plenty of time. Rather than accompanying her all the way to the airport, we agreed I would only go for part of the early morning metro ride.. This would provide me with some time to return to the hotel and relax before checking out and returning by train to Sevilla.
We entered the subway at Plaza de España and traveled deep into the bowels of
Madrid. When the first metro train entered the station and all I could say was “I can’t do this”. We watched the hoards of people enter an already jammed train. I suggested that since we had plenty of time we could wait a bit for the crowds to dissipate. Less than two minutes later a second train pulled into the station and to out relief it was half empty. So we began the four-stop journey to the airport line. We arrived at her station in less than ten minutes and we found the indicated platform for trains going to the airport. Once again we were faced with masses of people. After the first packed train departed, I suggested that she move next to the edge and quickly get on when the next train came in (I was beginning to worry that the trains back into the center were going to be overcrowded and I wanted to get out of the rat hole.) So we said a quick and awkward goodbye and as quickly as the train pulled into the station my mother disappeared into the crowd. I stood at the back of the platform and tried to see that face which as time passes I see more of in my own mirror, but she had been swallowed in the crowd. I waited until her train departed and began to work my way back to the hotel.
Back in the room I allowed myself the luxury of a bottle of sparkling mineral water from the mini-bar. I figured that if nothing else a Perrier and a six hundred milligram ibuprofen would make my headache go away and if I was lucky lift the fog. I had planned to stay at the hotel until just before noon, so if my mother needed to get in touch with me, she could call the hotel. I had slipped a card with the hotel number in her bag earlier that morning. It was just before ten-o-clock in the morning and I decided that a long hot bath would prepare me for the streets of Madrid.
Before I entered the bathroom I opened the safe so that I could reconfirm the time of departure of my train to Sevilla. When I withdrew my travel wallet, instead of opening the envelope that contained my ticket, I was drawn to my passport. Perhaps, it had been our discussions of how lately when I look at pictures of myself I see my mother that led me to open my treasured possession. One look at the picture and I began to yell “Oh my God, Oh my God” Not because of the striking similarities, but because I had my mother’s passport. I frantically stuffed my few belongings into my bags and within minutes I was running down the stairs with my backpack and purse thrown over my shoulder, and my Perrier in hand.
As a young child whenever faced with stressful situations I would begin to speak a hundred miles a minute and was called motor mouth by my family. I can only imagine what the concierge at the front desk would have called me. I was finally able to explain the situation and told her that if my mother called, to let her know that I was on my way to the airport. I also let her know I had to pay for the Perrier as I emptied my coin purse into my hand. After a hysterical moment of trying to count change she grabbed a few coins, and sent me running out the door.
Fortunately, I knew the route and did not have to stop to study the metro map. The concierge had said the trip would take about 40 minutes, which would leave me less than an hour before my mother’s flight departed. Fortunately the metro was fairly vacant, and once I connected to the airport line I was able to sit, drink my Perrier and count the minutes. To my relief I made the trip from the hotel to the airport in less than half and hour, though it did take an additional 10 minutes of sprinting through
Barajas to arrive at the U.S. Airways check-in counter.
I approached the airline’s security people, took a
deep breath. As calmly and as slowly as I could I explained the situation. They told me that no one had been through with the wrong passport. I once again explained that my mother had to have come through the line, with my passport. They said, no, that they would have noticed that the passport name did not match the ticket name. I informed them that our last names are identical and perhaps they didn’t notice the first name. At this point I took out the passport and insisted that they go to the desk and check if there was such a person on that flight.
I was not allowed to approach the counter, nor was I allowed to know if the passenger whose passport I was holding was on the flight. I was left standing behind the check-in area, not sure what to do. After twenty minutes a young man approached the desk with a blue passport in hand. He walked up to me, asked if I had my mother's passport. He then flipped over both passports and removed the security stickers from the passport he had and put them on the one I had. He then took my mom’s passport and went back through security. As he walked away I began to wonder why he never even checked my own passport photo nor did he even open my mother’s passport to make sure it was a correct document.
At this point I felt relieved, but then I began to realize that I had no idea where my mother was. I assumed that she was at the gate, or was she? Was she being detained for traveling with someone else’s identification? Would she get her passport?
I checked the flight board. Her flight was scheduled for an on time departure, and was currently boarding. I assumed that if there had been problems, I would have been detained as well. At this point I could only wait till my mother completed her long journey to hear her part of the story.
This story leaves me wondering, just how safe is all the security they have us go through in airports other than Adelaide's.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Maya,
    We are stitting in the nearby coffee shop called Your Place and decided to read some of your blogs.
    We read the one called Semana Santa and I almost had tears reading this
    wonderful story of you and your mother and then about the passports.
    Wow, so glad everything turned out ok.
    It sounded stressful.
    But it is true that the pictures we have seen of your mother that the two of you really do look alike.
    Keep your good writing.
    Elaine and Don.