Chiangi Airport, Singapore:
Of all of the crazy stories I arrived home with from Asia, the one that gets the most laughs occurred on December 17th, in the lobby of Changi Airport. I had come to Singapore in July with two full checked bags, a carry on bag, a backpack with my squash racket, my stuffed moose and a pillow. When I was leaving Singapore, I had much more. I threw away my backpack, but bought a much larger travel backpack while I was there.
1. My new travel backpack was filled with dirty clothes from the past two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia, and a few presents.
2 & 3. I filled my big giant suitcase and a second smaller wheelie suitcase with everything from my dorm (clothes, pictures, tapestries, shoes, jackets, sheets, etc.)
4. I had a huge duffel bag which had souvenirs: both for me as well as Christmas presents for others. This bag also had my computer, books and binders.
5. I had my side bag, with my tickets, passport, wallet, camera, headphones and iPod for the flights and books.
6. I also had my moose, squash racket, pillow and paintings with me that I could not pack (these were to be carried free from my other bags).
According to Qatar's Website, Regulations are:
Check Baggage: 2 pieces, not to exceed 23 kg and a maximum dimension of 158 cm each
Carry Ons: One piece, not to exceed 7 kg and 50 x 37 x 25 cm
If in person at the airport I was to add a Third Piece of Checked Luggage, it would be $200 USD, and for each piece over the 23 kg limit, a $65 USD charge is applied.
Now it's 1am, my flights leaves at 2am. I show up to the counter, and my two "checked" bags are both well over 23kg (around 40 kg each). This should be an automatic $130 charge, but I get them to wave the fee as an international student. They print my boarding passes and I start to walk away... Then the trouble begins.
The checker noticed I still have a large backpack, a huge duffel bag, a side bag, a stuffed moose, a pillow, a squash racket, and two paintings. She yells to me that I cannot carry on all of this stuff, and will have to check another bag. Here comes the $200 charge I've been dreading, only I don't give up so easy.
In my duffle bag I have my computer, which I will not be checking. In my travel backpack I have a few Christmas presents, and in my side bag I have my important things I don't want to lose. I can't check a racket, my paintings, moose or pillows. Which leads me to the argument that I cannot possibly check any of my extra bags. She says she must weigh everything to see if it is under 7 kg.... my duffel bag alone was 25 kg! (Note: this should have had an extra fee even as a check bag). My backpack was another 13 kg, and she never even asked to weight the miscellaneous items I was carting around...
So what now? I have less than an hour to my flight and they tell me I cannot go. I am starting to cry at the airport. I can only imagine what my parents will say when I miss my flight home from Singapore, the week of Christmas, all because I bought too much stuff in Asia and don't want to pay the fee.
So the checker calls her manager over and they have this silent conversation. He is a HUGE person, tall and wide, arms folded and not smiling. He looks at me, looks at my pile of things, and looks at the two bags I have already checked, and without saying a single work gives a nod OK. The checker looks back at me and says, "If you can carry it all, my manager says it is ok." I was SO relieved.
I go through security, board my flight and take up an entire overhead compartment for myself. I fall asleep on the plane, next stop: Doha, Qatar.
Assuming I am all done with airport troubles I arrive in Doha. Next flight to JFK leaves from Gate 18.... which is nowhere to be found. I can see gate 14, 15, 16 and then 21, 22, 23 etc. But where are the missing numbers? One sign that says "All Flights to the United States this way" has an arrow pointing down a hall way, so I follow it, and sure enough there is Gate 18... behind all new security lines.
Now, in my time in Asia I flew an average of 3 or 4 times a month, and never had to go through crazy security. No body scanners, no taking off my shoes, no removing laptops from my backpack. I had forgotten how crazy and intrusive our airport security is. So I get in line, and this airport worker comes rushing over to me. "Are you traveling alone?" I respond with yes, very confused. "Please, follow me right away" and he brings me straight to the front of the line. With the 40 kg of stuff I am carrying this was greatly appreciated. I am rushed through security, and brought to the gate area. Without thinking much of it I sit down. Next someone comes and asks me which seat number I have, and they make a note of it.
A solo female in most of the Middle East is simply an unusual sight, and a female traveling alone is even more rare. In their culture it just doesn't happen. And when they see a female alone, some places even separate them from the bigger groups - such as having separate seating areas in restaurants and on buses. I was able to take the first bus from the gate to our plane, along with other women and children traveling.
In the middle of all that happening, one other thing happened too. According to flight standards in the US, rackets are considered weapons, and therefore I could not carry on my squash racket with me. So that got added to my checked luggage.
JFK, New York City:
I landed in JFK, carried my bags to the luggage claim and looked for my checked bags to go through customs. However, I can’t find my squash racket anywhere. It’s not with my bags, it’s not in the pile of small checked items, it is gone, and I am mad. Then I see an airport official giving directions to a family, and using a bright orange squash racket to point them in the right direction. Knowing I have another connection to make, I run over to him and ask for it back. Now, carting around about 100 kg of stuff, I have to go from the international terminal to domestic, recheck my bags, re-go through security, and find my final gate of my journey.
And once again, I forget how terrible US security really is. The lines were long, and I forgot to take out my laptop from inside my duffle bag so they take me aside and search everything before making me retry the metal detectors. At the end of 24 hours, I did not want to deal with this. I just wanted to get home.
Luckily I found my gate, grabbed a big slice of pizza (for the first time in over a month!) and was almost done my journey.