Hixie's Natural Log

2004-10-23 18:48 UTC I'm sorry sir, you are a security risk

I'm in the bay area for a CSS working group meeting. My flight over was mostly eventless, but the stop-over at Seattle...

I didn't know David's street address (which is where I'm staying — thankss David!) so I couldn't fill in the "Street Address" part of the immiration paperwork. I figured that wouldn't be a problem. After all, I'm available by e-mail much, much more reliably than I would be at a street address.

After taking both my fingerprints and a digital photo, and asking me if my trip was for business or pleasure (I'm here for a CSS working group meeting... Internet Web Standards work. I work for Opera Software. We make Web browsers?) he sent me to the Special part of immigration.

Same questions, in more detail. Is my trip for business or pleasure? Internet, you say? How can you not know where you are staying? I gave him David's phone number (I have no idea what I would have done if I didn't have that on me — I happened to copy it to my laptop about a year ago, and it was still there, luckily). That was an amusing call. Hi, this is customs and immigration from Sea-Tac... Are you expecting a visitor? Is it for business or pleasure?

Eventually he let me go through to customs. The guy at the head of that line took one look at my paperwork and sent me straight to the Special Line for a thorough examination of my bags.

Is this all you have? One backpack? Yup, it's all I have. Lots of t-shirts, lots of underwear, one laptop. He carefully took the entire thing apart, examining each sock. Wow, you really do have a week's worth of stuff here. Yes, that's what I said. Is this for business or pleasure? By this point I was on the verge of giggles, but I tried to remain serious. Where will you be meeting? At Microsoft's campus in Mountain View. Do you have an invitation letter? We do everything by e-mail. Do you have a print-out of the e-mail?

A what now?

Ok, you can go.

I hand in my now quite well-used customs form (it's been cross-out, filled in, cross-out again, and had notes and signatures put all over it by this point) to the person on the way out of customs and walk straight into the Connecting Flights Security Checkpoint.

Shoes off. Coat and shoes in box. Books in box. Open backpack, take laptop out, but laptop in third box. Put backpack on conveyor. Go through metal detector. Twiddle thumbs while security peer at the X-ray picture of the bag which just a few minutes ago had been taken apart and put back together again. Laptop back in backpack. Shoes back on. Coat back on.

Check-in to my connecting flight went reasonably smoothly, although with only the information that I had a ticket for "AS324" and had been automatically rebooked to a later flight, and without really knowing what airline "AS" was (Alaska Airlines), it took me quite a while to work out how to do it. In European airports you don't get this problem, because typically when you enter the check-in area there is a huge display with every departing flight listed (including those that left in the last few hours) and the location of the appropriate check-in desk.

Next, another security checkpoint, this time to enter the domestic lounge. I get to the head of the line and am redirected down a long lane to the Extra Special Security team, because, without my noticing, my boarding pass had been quad-Sed. "SSSS" is what you see on your boarding pass in the US if you have been granted the special privilege of skipping the queue and getting a more detailed screening instead. It's usually a good thing (you get to skip the queue) but you have to notice it to take advantage of it.

Shoes off. Coat and shoes in box. Books in box. Open backpack, take laptop out, but laptop in third box. Put backpack on conveyor. Go through metal detector. Wait... Sit down on chair. Raise left leg while security person checks for metallic objects. Raise right leg for same reason. Stand and face my bags, arms out while the metal detector wand checks the rest of my body. Do you have anything in your pockets? Oops. Empty pockets. Pat down. Watch while my bags are swabbed for bomb chemicals.

By that point I'm pretty sure I was certified as the least dangerous person in the entire state.