International Travel Requires International Adjustment

6 01 2010

I have had a passport since 1971, and have managed at least one foreign trip every year (irrespective of where I was living).

Which also means that I am fully aware of jet-lag.

Or as it is medically known, “desynchronosis”  a physiological condition which is a consequence of alterations to circadian rhythms which results from rapid long-distance transmeridian (east-west or west-east) travel, as on a jet plane

The ease of being able to visit the majority of the countries in the world just by jumping on a plane is one of the things I have been fortunate to do in my life.

I have stood in the Coliseum of Rome, sky-dived over Queenstown in New Zealand, watched the sunset over Uluru (Australia), taken a helicopter trip into the Grand Canyon and discussed the fall of the Soviet Union in a bar in Moldova with a girl who may not have been interested in my company but rather the contents of my wallet.

I even flew Business Class once.

However sometimes the sheer joy of international travel and the chance to see things in the flesh is outweighed by circumstances beyond your control.

The failed bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day dragged the airport authorities out of their lethargy (which to be fair had been in place for some time prior to the Pants Bomber) and ensured that anyone flying to the USA would have to undergo additional security checks and invasion of personal space.

I like a good pat-down as much as the next man but being searched twice in twenty minutes by unsmiling security staff is not how I wanted our trip to the UK to end. But I understand why they do it, it is for our safety and to ensure that only mechanical fault will prevent us reaching our destination.

After the new regulations came in to force in 2006 (following the discovery of an alleged terror plot in the UK), I had got used to not taking any liquids or gels and to remove my shoes when instructed – despite my warnings regarding the state of my socks.

But complacency had set in.

Not just from the passengers who felt that additional restrictions were OK when there was a threat but couldn’t understand why they couldn’t take a bottle of unopened Evian onto an aircraft – slight clue here…because it is a liquid.

But also from the airline authorities who thought that the restrictions were adequate enough to stop any would-be terrorists from attaining their desired goal.

The problem is that terrorism doesn’t sleep, its function is to instil fear through a series of unpredictable actions.

A bit similar to jet-lag. 

I returned to the USA on Monday and was lucky enough to experience the new secondary security search. After being instructed to drink the liquids purchased in the retail environment at Heathrow, remove my shoes, open my laptop, take out my wallet, answer some questions, do a small dance designed to remove any shred of dignity and explain why I had so many magazines in my rucksack for a 7 hour journey, I was allowed to board the aircraft.

Where I was unable to get any sleep for the following reasons

  1. the person in front of me reclined their seat within seconds of the wheels entering the fuselage
  2. the lights remained on throughout the whole trip, apart from 10 minutes of our descent in Boston
  3. I was constantly harassed by flight attendants who wanted me to either eat, drink or buy something
  4. I had a cold which ensured that I sneezed constantly.

So I have jet-lag. A state of awakened annoyance.

Which is what I imagine Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has as he gets used to his new surroundings in the base that was supposed to be shut by now.

International travel, sometimes it is not everything it is cracked up to be.

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