Friday, June 7, 2013

The Most Ridiculous Flight Home

I knew leaving Israel via El Al (Israel's premier airline carrier) would be a very different experience than when I flew Delta when I came home for graduation. However, I was not prepared for the crazy experience that I did have at Ben-Gurion (now endearingly referring to as "Benny-G") at 9pm. 

Our journey begins in Jerusalem with 4 friends, who ordered a Nesher (a shuttle that picks you up in Jerusalem and takes you to Ben-Gurion), and a growing number of friends that see us getting ready to depart, all hugging. We were not the first people to get picked up by the Nesher, which is fine, but we knew we would have tons of luggage (as we essentially had 5 months worth of life in our suitcase - which I hope to God none of it broke). By the time we got to Ben-Gurion there were 9 peoples' worth of luggage in the back and it was overflowing into my chair (suitcase wheels as a neck-rest = not so comfortable). 

We gather our luggage and make our way into the airport and we are first departed from one of our friends, as she was flying to Newark and we were flying to New York. We say petty goodbyes, as we literally will meet up with each other in about 45 minutes once we all got through baggage check-in. The three of us that remain all get our boarding passes and then we wait in line for the first round of security. I about the fifth person in line, and my two other friends got distanced by about 5 people. 

For those of you who have never been to Ben-Gurion you need to stick your checked bag through a gigantic x-ray machine before you check the bag at the actual counter. "Random" (scare quotes because the selection is hardly random, and as this is an Israeli airline it is always though who are pegged or thought to be non-Jewish that get selected for "random" screening) selection occurs, and I knew I would get taken for the good old sweep of my bag (I have grown used to this racial profiling, as when I get tanner my skin takes on a darker complexion. I never thought I would pass as looking Arab, but apparently I thought wrong). 

The process was the same as when I came home to the US for the first time. They ask you to open your bag and then they take the little wands and sweep for chemical traces and all that good stuff (I was a little miffed, because they made me break the seal to a salt scrub that I got, and I hope the oils didn't leak through the cover. I would not be a happy camper). All was fine until the security guard swept across a Jordanian Kafiyah of mine (which was actually hidden inside of my messenger bag - just goes to show you how thorough they are) and then they found the Arabic (Oh no, the threat of a beginner level's book of another language). 

When things like this happen at Ben-Gurion they need to call the supervisor (something I was used to, since when I flew home for graduation my carry-on set off the chemical detector sensors, which is a whole other story if you ever want to hear about it). The security officer comes over and says something along the lines of, "we need to ask you a few questions." Obviously I comply.  

We go through the usual: "Where are you from?" "What's your name?" "Why did you come here?" "Where else did you go?" "Were you the only one who packed your bag?" "Did your bag ever leave your sight or possession at any point?" "Do you have family in Israel?" "Why do you study what you study?" "Then because you study _____ why Israel?" (Just a sliver of the questionnaire gambit that you get put through) He holds up the kafiyah and asks where I got it. I say, "I bought it last night, in Jerusalem, during Jerusalem lights." He asks no further questions. He then picks up the Arabic (Now this isn't like the Qur'an or some super deep philosophical discourse in Arabic. This book is literally a step-by-step book on how to write the letters). 

He holds up the papers and asks, with his head slightly crooked and feigning bewilderment, "What's this?" I say, "My friend gave me the handouts she got in class, because she knew I wanted to learn Arabic." (All true, these are not the types of security people that you want to lie to). I have been around enough people speaking Arabic that I know what Arabic sounds like, and this guy (I assume) says, "So you speak Arabic?" to me, in Arabic. Obviously not knowing Arabic I have the wonderful response of, "Heh?" 

Now the questions take a detour. "If you wanted to learn Arabic why wouldn't you go to Turkey? or Syria? or Saudi Arabia?" What my response was: "I came here to learn Hebrew, and now I also want to learn Arabic, which is why my friend gave me her materials so I could teach myself." What I thought in my head was: "Yes, because if I wanted to learn Arabic I would choose to go what are probably the 3 most unsafe places to go to for Americas; because that is a logical jump to most people." (I thank God, what was uttered was not the latter) He then asks me about the book, saying things like, "Well there is already writing in here?" To which is say, "Yes. It was my friend's for class, and she gave it to me after she was done." Then he says, "What was your friends name?" Thankfully my friend has a Jewish name and then he stopped asking questions. 

*Note: by this time one of my friends has checked her bag and is now waiting so we can all go through security together. My other friend is waiting to also to the whole question gambit. 

You're probably thinking, "Wow, security is a pain there." But wait, it's just getting started.

So there I am, only having 5 months of being around Modern Hebrew, and security guy and chief security and just doing the whole, "Rabble rabble Hebrew rabble rabble." Finally, the chief guy leaves and then the security guard (who we essentially become my personal escort for the next 2 hours) says to me, "I'm sorry, but we are going to have to screen your other bags (my carry-on and my backpack). This is nothing I really care about, as I had to do it when I came home the first time. 

I take my bags over to the machine to scan them. As I am walking over I spy all the other Rothberg students have arrived. So now I am at least near a bunch of people I still know. I scan my bags and then I have to take them back over to the have them get checked for chemical residue. As I am bringing them over my personal security guy is telling me that I will be taking for private security screening and all that fun stuff. I'm thinking, "I hate my life." and "I want to sleep." Once again, I have to open my bags. However, now that they are doing extra screening they proceed to take out every single item of my carefully packed bags and check through them all separately. I think have the "opportunity" to repack my carry-on (which was full of clothes and books) in front of the security people as they are now taking every item out of my backpack (pens, camera, lenses, cords, everything). Now that everything is unpacked it can then be sent through another scanning machine. 

*Note: By this time my second friend had finishing his question gambit and the other Rothberg people were now getting into line for their questionings.

The security guy tells me, "They are waiting for the machine to warm up and then we can scan your items. In the mean time we can do you private screening?" (It was said like a question, but it was really an order). So they I get to walk with this man across the main of Ben-Gurion to the back room where we are in a room. I am told to remove everything from my pockets, to take of my shoes, etc. Then I swabbed for chemical residue. The quote from this portion that was just icing on the cake at 1020pm was "You need to undo you top button and half of your zipper." so they would be able to swab the inside of my pants. Then I get patted down and then I get all my stuff back. 

Now that I have been taken away for screening I remember, "Crap, I need to return the phone I got for when I came to Israel." I tell my security guy and he says, "Okay, we can do that on our way before security. But don't let me forget." We get back and then there are more questions. I don't recall what they are right now because all I remember feeling was my butt vibrating, since my friends were texting me wondering where the hell I was. Obviously I am ignoring the texts. He tells me I can sit down and I grab my phone and I see messages like, "Are you still in security?" "Hey we are waiting just before security." "We want to know when you will be here to return our phones." and "So, we are going to return our phones." 

Me, being oh so tired, start to text my friends back, only to realize as I am texting the third person that, "Those bitches already returned their phones. I'm texting no one right now." Only then do I realize that I have no way to contact those who I was with about what was going on...AWESOME. Well, I am thinking I will be able to pack up all of my belongings as they were scanned while I was gone, but no, they hadn't scanned them yet. So then they have to take them away and scan them somewhere else. 

Scanning is done, and now I can finally check my bag!!!! YAY!!! After 2 and a half hours I can check my bag. But wait, I still have to be privately escorted through. So I get taken to the counter and then they weight my bag (which was over), but El Al, being a foreign airline will find any way to bleed your money and the clerk say, "I'm sorry, you can only check one bag on this flight." In my mind I think, "You have got to be shitting me." Me, still having some semblance of sanity response with, "Fine. Can I pay for it here?" She says, "Yes, only if you have a credit card." I snap back, "'Kay." Pull out my card and pay for the bag (sorry mom, I will pay you that $100 back). 

Now I put my bag on the conveyor belt and I am done with my bags....finally. Now I get to go on a date with a security guy to drop of my phone, because I can't be by myself before going through security. I drop my phone of, which literally took 10 second (Thank you, Jesus), and then I go towards security. Well, since I had my wonderful security screening and was in the sight of Mr. Security Man for the past 2 and a half hours I was able to bypass security. So I got escorted through all these locked doors that you need special keys to get through and then I am suddenly in Passport Control. Mr. Security Man apologizes again (as he was apologizing most of the time he was searching my belongings) and wishes me a safe flight home. I say "thank you and peace" in Hebrew. 

As I am walking through Passport Control I see one of my friends and I am thinking, "How the hell are they only here." We meet on the other side of PC and then I go into detail telling him everything I had to do, and he was telling how they all were waiting for me and wondering what was happening to me. We all meet up at the terminal and we are all buying water and getting ready to tuck in for the flight. I am thinking, "I am going to change into my shorts for the flight home." I go down to get my shorts and realize that they are in my carry-on, which now is checked beneath the plane....perfect. Also, we get informed before we board that this is a flight where water is not allowed on, so now you have about what seems like 200 people literally chugging bottles we JUST paid for rather than throwing them away before we get on the flight.

Fast forward about 12 hours, when we land in New York City. The flight has landed at 6am and my next flight leaves at 810. I race through customs and somehow magically get my luggage in 45 minutes, and then we are off to check-in. We are told where to go and check our bags (which I charged an overweight fee from Delta *shakes fist*. I'm sorry Delta, you try and pack 5 months of your life into a bag and keep it under 50 lbs. It is no easy task, let me tell you.). My bag is checked and I am off, but wait, some security person stops me and asks me if I need any help. Me, having only one hour says, "Yes, I need to make my flight that leaves in 1 hour." I get a look of skepticism, and I think, "Not again. You have got to be shitting me." Luckily this questioning was like 15 minutes.

Well now I am only 45 minutes until my plane leaves and I am trying to get through security and asking if I can cut because I need to catch my flight. Since I skipped line I had to get my hands and feet chemically checked (By this time I didn't care. I was laughing in my head and thinking, "Dude, I ran through the gambit in Israel. If they didn't catch anything, you certainly won't...and they didn't.). And thus I continued my run through JFK. I have to catch a bus that takes you to another terminal, where I need to go and I get to my gate as they are making the final call for my flight. I get there and the ticket scanner says, "We are closing the door of the plane in one minute." In my mind I think, "Dear, sweet baby Jesus. Thank you."

Fast forward 2 and a half hours and I land in Minneapolis, now only mere 4 hours drive (or 45 minute flight from home) blogging away about my wonderful time. I got some Starbucks and cheap American-Chinese food. As I was blogging and finishing my meal I break open my fortune cookie and it reads, "Endurance and persistance will be rewarded." I proceeded to laugh for about 5 minutes. 

Now I am off, I am going to fly standby for an earlier flight home....who knows...maybe my persistance will pay off. 


  1. Evan, Evan, Evan... So sorry you had to endure this! But It was so very entertaining. Welcome back.

    1. Lol. No worries. I combatting the whole scenario with humor. It helped me stay sane.

  2. Glad you are safely home.

    1. Me too, but I already want to go back. I miss Israel so much already.