‘Frisked’ at the Hong Kong airport

An HK Express aircraft seen outside the Hong Kong International Airport.

One thing about air travel that I never look forward to is having to go through TSA inspection. I have yet to meet someone who looks forward to having to take their shoes and jackets off and surrendering all their belongings for X-ray, then raising their arms in total surrender to the body scanner, but it’s a necessary security measure.

I had a quick stopover at the Hong Kong International Airport one morning from Cebu City. I never slept at all the previous night and was kind of dizzy and just wanted to get it over and board my next flight.

A woman looks at the transportation information board at the Hong Kong International Airport.

I only had two hours before my connecting flight and I became nervous and fidgety as I waited for my bag at the baggage claim. It seemed forever before the carousel started rolling, and as I waite, I started taking visible deep breaths while clenching and unclenching my hands. Weeks later, after watching Border Security on Netflix, I learned too late that I was displaying all the body signs and signals of someone who appears to have something to conceal.

My bag finally arrived and I grabbed it and rushed to the exit.Alas, there was more to come. A young TSA officer asked to see my passport and pointed me to the X-ray where I dumped bags for scanning. He then directed me to the inspection tables a few feet away. There were almost 200 passengers on that flight and I was one of the very few who were picked out for random inspection. I’ve never been selected for inspection before and it made me nervous.

The TSA official asked me why was acting nervous and If I had anything questionable in my luggage.

“I’m nervous because I don’t want to miss my flight because it’s going to affect two more connecting flights and I’ve had a traumatic experience a few weeks ago when I got stranded in an airport and had to contact my booking agency, who I found out is based in the UK for rebooking and it was so hard to contact them and I was so thirsty and hungry and had a migraine and all the food outlets were closed and I had to sit in an almost deserted terminal for hours and …” I blabbered non-stop, then gasped for some air.

He started poking through my luggage. I had a bout of OCD earlier and everything was neatly packed in travel baggies. I gasped when he opened the small baggie containing my dirty clothes. That gasp got his full attention and he paid more attention to that one baggie that I didn’t want to be opened.He went through my cameras, asked why I had two of them. He checked my lenses, took out my gyro from its case and asked what it was for. He obviously didn’t know much about photography.

Then he unearthed a pack of rice coffee my mother painstakingly prepared. The officer stared at the black powder, smelt it and I explained it was rice coffee. He called a female officer and they discussed something while I was told to stay away from my luggage. The officer took my coffee, my laptop and my hard drives with him and after what seemed like forever, came back and told me I could repack my bags.

It was funny in a way, if I wasn’t pressed for time. It was like watching your life and every content of your luggage spread out and being scrutinized by a stranger as you look on.

Luckily, Hong Kong International Airport is a very modern airports and checking in was a breeze. There are kiosks where you can check in and collect your boarding pass with ease. I made it to my departure gate with a few minutes to spare before boarding started.

It was funny in a way if I wasn’t pressed for time. It was like watching your life being scrutinized by a stranger as you look on.

I proceeded to the entrance gates where you have to personally scan your passport to get in. The machine didn’t recognize my passport. I tried again. It failed again. And again, and yet again. After the sixth failed attempt, I turned to an airport staff and ask for assistance. All he said was, “It wouldn’t work? Then try another machine. There’s lots of them.”  

The entrance was like 60 gates away from my departure gates and I had to literally run.

Note to self and to all other travelers, try to book connecting flights with enough time intervals so you won’t be harassed or risk missing your next flight. Most of all, relax if you get selected for TSA inspection. Your actions could sometimes cause more delay. Worse, it could even lead you to secondary, and you wouldn’t want to do that especially if you are trying to catch your next flight.

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