I flew to Vancouver Canada to attend a meditation retreat. We were told to bring snacks for ourselves and to share with others to augment our meals, since we were only getting two cooked meals a day. So I took a lot of food, including a bag of apples. Some of my apples were eaten, but unfortunately, not all. In packing to leave the retreat, things just got shoved in bags – a couple of apples in my carry-on bag and a couple of apples in the bags that would be checked. I didn’t think anything of this, at the time.
They always say to get to the airport for international flights 2 hours ahead of time, but I decided that an hour and a half was enough. Canada doesn’t really feel foreign and the 30 minute flight from Vancouver to Seattle hardly seems like an international flight. What could go wrong? Why would it possibly take 2 hours to check in at the airport? I was about to find out.
I got through the Alaska Airlines check-in desk quickly and checked in two bags. Off went my bags in one direction and off I went in another. I went through the security check with no problems. I got to customs and filled out the form on a computer. My printout had a big X on it, because I declared that I had fruit and dairy in my carry-on bag. Of course, I couldn’t just give my fruit, my apples, to anyone but the specialized agriculture inspection guy. So I had to go into a room and wait with lots of other people, lots of families, who were also fruit smugglers. It was very clear that many people going into the U.S. didn’t know about the no fruit law. When it was my turn to speak with the guy, he looked through my carry-on and took two apples. He didn’t seem to care about the cheese I was bringing in, just the apples. OK – so now he had my offending apples, I could go on my way, right? No.
Here is where I think I made a big mistake. He asked if I had any fruit in my checked bags and I said yes. So it is debatable if telling the truth was a good idea or not. Actually, I wasn’t sure I had apples in my checked bags, but I thought I did. So they had to have my bags located and brought to the agriculture inspector. This was not a fast process. I am sitting watching the time go by and waiting for my bags. It becomes clear to me that I will miss my flight. I am mad at myself for not knowing about no fruit in bags. I am mad at the people at the Alaska desk for not simply asking everyone as they check in the simple question: “Got any fruit in these bags you are about to check?” Or for not having big signs that remind people what you cannot have in your checked bags. It would be so easy to do this. I am also mad at the agriculture inspector, because he is treating me like I am a mass murderer, rather than someone who made the innocent mistake of putting 2 American-bought apples in my bags.
When I mention to the inspector that a lot of the people who have come past him today (and I’m assuming that that day was just a normal day for him) wouldn’t have had this experience, if they had just been advised about fruit at an earlier stage in the process. Of course, if they did this, he wouldn’t have anyone to torment and he might be out of a job. He replies that I should have come to the airport earlier (which I should have, but which I wouldn’t have needed to do, if I had just removed the apples from my bags – so it is sort of a catch 22.) You don’t really need 2 full hours to get to your gate, unless you are a fruit smuggler and then you do need that time and more. So in the future, I will not be a fruit smuggler and probably will not get to the airport early.
So my bags finally showed up and he removed the apples and then escorted me out into the airport. I went to my gate, on the long shot that the plane had been delayed. But no such luck. I then go all the way back to the main part of the airport to look for Alaska Airline employees to help me book a new flight. There were no Alaska Airline employees to be found and no one in the airport seemed to know how to contact Alaska Airlines. They also say I can’t go back to the Alaska check-in desk, because I am now legally in the U.S. and that desk is in Canada and I can’t go back to Canada! The best they could do for me was tell me when the next Alaska flight was leaving and that employees of Alaska Airlines would be at that gate an hour before the flight. I go sit at the gate and wait. When the woman opens the desk at the gate, she already knows who I am and she gets me on the next flight to Seattle (I got the last seat). I have just enough time in Seattle to make it to my Tucson flight. It is boarding as I get there, but I get on the plane and finally I can relax. I feel like I have escaped from a weird nightmare.
Yesterday, I went to a yoga class, the last class for a teacher who is moving away. After class, as we are lying down with our eyes closed, she walked around and left a small present for each of us. I open my eyes, sit up and there is a sweet looking red apple at the end of my yoga mat. I had to smile.
March 14, 2014