Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 October - 5 November 2008
Issue No. 920
Sky High
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Flight experience:

Respected abroad, suspected at home

Comparing airports is comparing nations.

Khaled Qinawi is a 21-year-old student at the AUC who travelled on a student programme to the US to take two semesters in his field of electronic engineering and physics at the University of Massachusetts. Qinawi is a serious student who takes a double major that will see him graduate with 210 credit hours more than the normal 162 credits.

"My parents were afraid of certain tight measures at the airport since I am an Arab and a Muslim. "You have been randomly selected by the computer" is what many Arab tourists to the US are being told when called for closer scrutiny at US airports.

Unlike my parents, who travelled to the US before 9/11 but fear the present situation now, I think this is ridiculous. I didn't fear anything and I was enthusiastic to go to the States for the first time in my life as a student. I'll go with my dream to study in the land of dreams.

At the airport I met the other AUC students who were on the same programme. Time passed quickly on the KLM four-hour trip to reach Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. It was breathtaking to see such a big airport with all facilities. I really enjoyed the four-hour transit in what I would call a shopping mall rather than an airport. I used the time exploring the airport and enjoying its ambiance which made me reflect on the status of the Cairo airport. No comparison for our favour!

Then it took us another eight hours to reach Boston's Logan International Airport. I was carrying two bags crammed with unnecessary clothes for mum's sake to make her feel relaxed. The airport was busy but I finished everything in just half an hour. Airport officers treated me well, maybe after seeing my J1 visa for students, but overall I didn't depict any harsh security measures as I had feared. On the contrary, I felt welcomed.

Nine months passed quickly as I enjoyed my studies, had new friends, enjoyed sightseeing in Boston, San Francisco and New York, worked at my department in the university and did some shopping for electronics.

Time came to bid farewell to a country I liked to a country I love despite cultural differences. This time I took the Air France Airlines from San Francisco Airport. The trip home started with the extra weight problem. So on the grounds of the airport, I started to rearrange my luggage and throw away what I could of my books, papers, sheets, clothes, other daily products, to meet the weight limit of two checked bags and a carry-on bag. Charles de Gaulle International Airport didn't have the charm of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

After a long trip, I came back home to my beloved country where I expected a homey welcome to overcome the nostalgia for my life abroad. However I was stunned with routine, noise, unprofessional management and people asking me for money. Then after almost an hour I managed to come to the inspection point where they usually skip me when I travel with my family. However this time they "randomly" chose me and looked at my passport. Unlike Boston, holding a J1 visa is not respected on home ground. They suspected me, took me aside, opened the three bags and searched every nook and cranny in it to find anything.

"Staying nine months in the States and coming empty-handed" was their comment. My reply was "I was studying." Then I showed them the certificate. But maybe they have bad experience with people coming with watches, mobiles, equipment, new clothes to sell here in Egypt more than with students and their certificates. But I still think they should have some logic and sense in their suspicions. They commented on me carrying two laptops. I showed them my older Egyptian one with Arabic labels which I will give to dad now and my new one from the States. They finally left me through without even saying "Welcome home, son."

This left a mark on me for a little time but I thanked God when I remembered they didn't find my precious i-phone gift to my sister, Sarah, which I'm sure they would have fined me for as proof that their inspection was necessary. Finally I came out of the airport to throw myself in the arms of my family where I finally felt home.

Though there were no tight security measures abroad, I suffered from rude behaviour and unprovoked suspicious measures at home.

Passenger: Khaled Qinawi

Route: Boston-Cairo

Airlines: KLM and Air France Airlines

Date: August 2007 /April 2008

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