A trip report documenting my March 2010 visit to Katie.
- Purpose and Planning
- Getting Started
- To London, Sir
- Back in the US Airways
- Terminal A-West, Philadelphia Born and Raised
Although my aeroplane had just landed in Philadelphia, I was in the curious situation of not technically having arrived in America yet. Right there inside the city limits of one of the country’s founding cities lies a corridor which is not in any country’s borders. At the end of the corridor would be a man with a gun who’d look at my documents, ask me some questions and decide whether I am worthy of visiting his fine country or not.
I’d been to America twice before and, like a pop-star watching some African kids dying on the news, decided I was an expert on the subject. I’d done my ESTA, brought my passport and drank a can of Relentless to make sure I was alert and would answer the border agent’s questions with something other than snoring. I mean, what else needed done?
The last time I’d been through Philadelphia’s border control I’d been one of the first off the plane and had absolutely bolted down to immigration ensuring I got through really quickly. There were probably about ten or so people in front of me in the entire hall. This time I had a 5 hour layover though and was in no rush. I figured if I got through fairly quickly I’d catch a train into town and get some dinner there.
My complacency led to me sauntering up to immigration, and even taking some time out for a toilet break. And not even the quick kind of toilet break at that. I rued that decision as soon as I reached the actual immigration hall. Place was jumping, yo. It was the sort of crowd levels that would look good on television at a music festival, but not what you want ahead of you in a queue for, well, anything. Maybe being executed, I guess, since you’d live quite a while.
I thought it was about time for a picture to break up this massive wall of text. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos in the immigration area, so have a picture of some rocks sitting on each other. It represents the zen type calm you need to feel while waiting to enter America, maybe?
Philadelphia has individual queues for each booth, unlike Atlanta which has one large queue that is then distributed evenly among the booths as you get near the end. This means that in Philly you look for what you think is shortest, and then you pray. I am glad I had a book, as it took probably 30-40 minutes before I got to speak to an agent. He started asking me the usual questions. “How long are you visiting?” – two weeks, “What’s the purpose of your visit?” – visiting my girlfriend, “Any money?” – about two hundred dollars or so. That kind of thing. He then asked me when my flight was, and I told him not for five hours which might have been a mistake.
He asked me if I had a printout of my itinerary, which I did not. My handwritten copy was apparently not good enough. I guess if I ever plan to stay in America unlawfully I’ll knock something up in Word and print it out, and then I’ll get through. Unfortunately my lack of itinerary printout meant I wasn’t allowed to progress into the US at that point. So he took my fingerprints and photo, put my passport into a red folder and told me to walk down to the end of the hall for “secondary screening”. I strongly suspect that I was chosen for it because he knew I had a five hour layover and wasn’t going to be too inconvenienced.
Clutching my red folder, I headed for a packed waiting room. Seeing how crowded it was, I figured it was a good idea to sneak back out, go to baggage claim, claim my baggage, and sneak back in. I hadn’t actually been told what to do with my red folder, and it was only as several other people entering the room took it up to a guy behind a desk that I realised I was supposed to give it to the guy behind the desk, which I did.
There weren’t enough seats for everybody, so despite being repeatedly urged by the border agents to take a seat, I kept standing. I figured I was young and virile and could take standing up a little bit easier than some of the older people in the room. It was interesting overhearing why other people had been kept back for secondary, from the Italian pair whose passports had been reported counterfeit by Interpol (who were admitted anyway, but told to get new passports when they get home) to a French lady who was visiting her boyfriend in the states but due to poor English had accidentally said she was “coming to stay with” her boyfriend to the agent. They went through everything in her three suitcases in the public area which she bore with admirable stoicism.
I was mostly kept amused by watching a particular border agent walk past now and again because his name badge said “Cock” on it.
Eventually my name was called, and I was one of the few taken into an actual office to be interviewed. Whether this was because I was seen to be more dangerous or perhaps I was being accorded more respect for some reason (I had noticed I was one of very few white people in the room, though I’m not trying to imply that border agents in Philadelphia are racist. Indeed, the agent dealing with me was an obvious immigrant herself). She asked me the same questions as my first agent, and I gave her the same answers.
I was accused of lying at one point. Asked “When were you last here?” I’d answered “August and September,” which prompted the accusation as my passport stamp showed “July 31st”. I mean, come on. Still, once I’d accounted for that her attitude changed completely, and my passport was stamped. Unfortunately though, I’d bought two packets of beef jerky to eat on the plane, and had eaten only one.
This meant that I got to tie up resources in the customs department as well. I was certainly getting good value for money out of my U.S. immigration fees. Luckily the customs lady was pretty much the nicest person in the entire world. A really short, bubbly woman who made the entire process really easy. We ended up having a really fulfilling conversation about Christianity and our respective churches, before she stole my delicious Beef Jerky and threw it in the bin. Unlike the last time I’d travelled through Philadelphia though, my bags were not scanned for smuggled goods (which is lucky, as I was attempting to smuggle in some Kinder Surprise Eggs, which are illegal in the states. Silly Americans.
Customs dealt with, I checked my luggage back in and headed for security where, just to keep up the delaying me theme, I was “randomly” selected to be swabbed for traces of explosives. I say “randomly” since I was the only person who wasn’t TSA in the entire security area, everyone else having gone through literally hours ago.
I still had a few hours until my flight left for Atlanta. I was glad I hadn’t chosen to add in an extra segment through Charlotte or Chicago, as I’d have missed them by now. In a way my misadventures with immigration had kept me from sitting bored in the airport for five hours. Now I only had two and a half extremely wearying hours to kill. My first port of call was Chick Fil A to remind myself why I love America. Seriously good Chikin. Unfortunately they were sold out of their equally good home made lemonade. I made do with a Dr. Pepper, or Katie Juice as I like to think of it.
Dinner consumed, I retired to a restroom to change my shirt and have a shave. It’s surprising how something as small as changing your shirt can make you feel so refreshed. I’d learned to pack extra clothing in my carry-on after being delayed for 26 hours in Philadelphia the summer before with just the clothes on my back. I pitied whoever had been forced to sit next to me on the plane to Atlanta then, I must have smelled awful. I didn’t want to smell awful this time.
I walked to the end of every terminal, apart from F since I couldn’t be bothered catching a bus, in the hope of spotting interesting planes, but the entire airport seemed to be dead. It was as though there are no flights after 7 P.M. or something. Apart from in A-West, where the Transatlantics were preparing to leave, I saw almost nobody apart from cleaners. Eventually I got bored of wandering this post-apocalyptic wasteland so went to my gate. I got a new boarding pass, since my old one had no boarding zone on it, being BMI stock.
Flight: US1469 PHL-ATL
Date: 8th March 2010
Scheduled Departure: 2030
Miles: 665 flown, 666 earned
There’s not much to report about a domestic US flight, especially not one which was almost entirely slept through. I did wake up in time to consume a can of coca-cola, but honestly that’s all I can say with certainty happened in flight.
I can be pretty sure it went a little something like this.
We arrived about 30 minutes early into an almost equally deserted Atlanta Airport, an airport I’m becoming really quite familiar with. Probably about five minutes after disembarking the aircraft, I was at baggage claim waiting for my bag to turn up. I was more impressed that I’d reached the airport sooner than my girlfriend, who only had a 70 mile drive compared to my 4000 mile journey.
She hadn’t felt comfortable driving in the Atlanta airport at night on her own, so had borrowed one of her friends to act as chauffeur for us. I shall call her Erin, since that is her name. It was about ten minutes before Katie walked into the airport accompanied by a pyjama wearing Erin. It didn’t take too long for my baggage to arrive, and we headed to the car.
An hour later we had dropped Erin off at her house, and I finally got to claim the kiss I’d flown 4,000 miles and 24 hours for, suddenly making it all worth it.
I shall skip a few days of my trip, because I doubt anyone wants to hear about people in love rediscovering what it means to have a relationship that’s defined by something other than a keyboard and computer monitor. Activities that had led, the previous summer, to a Glasgow Jakie telling us to “get a fucking room”. Bad enough to see it, let alone read about it. So for the next part of this report, I will skip ahead to our weekend away to Georgia’s coast, in historical Savannah. Until then, ladies and gentlemen, I bid you adieu.