Escape From New York

Yes, a very pleasant weekend in New York, thank you. I’ll spare you the details – you’d only get jealous – but do want to mention a couple of airport incidents, which shed an interesting light on bureacracy and those that enforce it.

#1. On the way into America, you have to fill in a visa waiver form, stating you’re not a war criminal, drug baron or are coming to America to engage in “moral turpitude” (a great phrase – if I ever find out what it means precisely, I’ll let you know). You also have to give your address in America, which is where I hit my problem: I was being picked up at the airport, so didn’t know the precise address. When I realised this, I naturally spent the rest of the flight sweating in terror – though that might have been to do with the Better Midler movie they showed as inflight “entertainment”…quotes used advisedly.

Lining up to go through immigration, I speak to one of the queue-shepherds, resplendent in full immigration uniform, and explain the position. “Well, you can’t leave it blank. Just put down a hotel,” she says. “The Marriott’s the usual one,” she adds helpfully. I look quizzically at her to see if she’s serious: yep, she is genuinely suggesting I put down a complete fabrication. In somewhat shaky Biro, I do so, carefully noting what she looks like, so I can shriek “It was her! She told me to do it!” as they drag me away in chains. Needless to say, standing in front of the immigration official was somewhat nerve-wracking – every second, I expected “So which Marriott Hotel is it then?” to come from his lips — cue chains, shrieking, etc. Of course, it didn’t and this terrorist entered the USA without leaving a paper trail – I felt somewhat Carlos the Jackal-like. But it just goes to show how easy it is to bypass regulations. Which brings me to…

#2. Thanks to a couple of Chinatown shops clearing out their stock of laser-discs at $10 a time, my hand-luggage was pretty solid on the way out. They made me put it on the scales, and it weighed a bit more than the 13 lb limit…okay, it was actually 25.8. “Too heavy,” they said. I take the laser-discs out, and hand the bag over. It’s weighed, and is deemed close enough to pass. I leave the desk, go round the corner…and put the laserdiscs back in my bag. I board the plane with no further difficulty.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this – on a previous occasion, I took stuff out of the offending case, and put it in my jacket pockets. Thus, honour was satisfied, the regulations were seen to be obeyed, and life proceded on after a slight annoyance. But you do have to wonder what the point is – why bother? I can understand an overall weight restriction covering all your baggage. I can even understand a volume restriction on hand luggage, since there’s a limited amount of space in the cabin. But within those limits, why should it matter whether your hand luggage weighs one pound or twenty? Of such things – the meaningless enforcement of petty regulations – are air-rages born. It’s interesting that the airlines put all blame for such things on the passengers, despite:

  • banning smoking, leading to stressed-out nicotine addicts
  • plying customers with drinks in a reduced-pressure atmosphere which enhances the effects of alcohol
  • cutting back the air circulation to the bare minimum, especially in economy
  • giving passengers – this is not an exaggeration – about two inches more room than slaves had while they were being shipped from Africa.

And slaves didn’t have to endure any Bette Midler movies either. Of course, there’s no excuse for berserk incidents involving passengers trying to open doors, and so on. But it might help if the airlines took some action to prevent the causes, as well as bleating about increasing punishments for the offenders.