ne of the things I’ve always found fascinating about traveling is the difference between airports. No two are alike, and that’s especially the case once you reach international territory.
The selection of food changes as do the array of shops. Of course these are all pluses for the traveler, particularly for someone like me, the ultimate “airport shopper sucker.”
You know all of those useless gizmos and gadgets they make and sell in the airport? I buy them. All the different foods, snacks and drinks? I grab em’ all up. How about a magazine and/or a book to go with that for the plane? Yep. I’ll take that too. Mind you, I’ve already got three of them in my carry-on.
It’s as if the moment I step off that plane I see signs that say, “WELCOME TO LONDON’S HEATHROW AIRPORT NICOLE ARRIAGA. WE’VE GOT LOTS OF USELESS CRAP JUST WAITING FOR YOU TO BUY.”
But the part I love the most about airports is the difference in personnel. Attitudes, professionalism and enforcement of rules and procedures are a far cry from being “standard” across-the-board.
Allow me to explain. Italian airports are notorious for being lax. Take this as you will, good or bad. It does make life a bit less stressful, especially when passing through airport security. I don’t have to get semi-naked. Although, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if I did.
Nor does the Italian version of TSA spend hours inspecting my tube of lip-gloss. They’re even friendly to you when passing through security and, surprisingly, don’t make you feel like a criminal. At times they can seem almost too friendly.
During a recent trip out of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport this holiday season, the inspectors suddenly took genuine interest in how I was doing, knowing more about my last name, my ancestry, and where my forefathers came from. Right. I’m not stupid. But at least it made for an amusing experiencing.
It was a different story at London Heathrow and New York’s JFK, two very complicated airports to travel through. Anyone who negotiates these places should be awarded a medal … for patience. The stress level at LHR and JFK should be coded red.
In London, I was asked a dozen questions at amazing speed. They seemed to be on a question clock. And don’t even think of getting upset with an airport employee at one of these airports. Non esiste proprio.
Give them just a little bit of bloody attitude because of overweight bag restrictions, and they have the right to detain you. Just like that. Over a small discrepancy regarding my purse, a ticket agent suggested I “dispose” of my handbag. I wanted to send her to quel paese.
In Italy, if I’m off by a pound or two, eh, who cares? They usually let it slide. Why? Because you’re the traveler. My miniscule tube of lip-gloss isn’t in a small plastic Ziploc bag? Not a problem. This willingness to understand and bend rarely happens anywhere else.
At JFK, my husband was detained and questioned in a small room for more than 30 minutes because a customs computer broke and they couldn’t get the necessary information online. Technical difficulties, they told me, giving me a Western movie stare. I almost cried. I also surrendered my lip-gloss.
By the time we got to Miami I wanted back to Italy, where people are a little bit kinder, a little bit gentler, stare-downs are less frequent, and everyone gets called mami.