A cultural comparison in the second person
Domestic flight at Chicago O’hare airport, USA
You arrive at the airport 1.5 – 2 hours before your flight. If you are lucky enough that you don’t need to check any bags, you go directly to the eticket booth, print out your boarding pass and head to the security lines. You’ve passed GO, collect $200.
If the machines aren’t working or you have to check a bag, you will stand in a long, slow line. Once at the front, you will still use computer monitors to check your bag, and an airline representative may or may not help you print your boarding pass. They will weigh your bags, put them on the conveyer belt, and you head to the security lines.
After waiting in a long line for security, you will get stopped by a gate attendant. He or she will check your driver’s license or passport by scanning it under a blue-green light. They will look at you and down at your picture a few times to verify that it is, in fact, your mug on the license. Finally, they will scribble something that looks like a drawing of a balloon animal on your boarding pass and give it back to you. You’ll get bonus points if you can get a smile out of them.
After waiting in yet another line, you reach the actual security checkpoint. You remove your shoes and hope that your feet don’t smell like cheese and that you remembered to put on socks without holes in them. You put these shoes into a plastic tub, and you remove your belt and coat and add them to it. You pull out your laptop and/or Ipad and put it in a separate tub. You remove your liquids, which all have to be less than 3.4 ounces and stored in a plastic bag. They get their own little plastic tub home as well. Finally, you add your carry-on bag and personal item(s) to the conveyer belt. You make one last check that you don’t have anything hiding in your pockets.
You wait until your belongings get onto the conveyor belt, then you wait in line again to get scanned for metals/flammables/weapons of mass destruction/metal screws in hips. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a metal detector. If you’re unlucky, you’ll strike an epic dance pose by throwing your hands up in a tube that takes a 360-degree image of your body. Everyone will know that you got your belly button pierced when you were a teenager.
At this stage, you might make it through fairly easily. But you can be stopped for a variety of reasons. This time, because it was so early in the morning, you decided to throw your hair up in a bun in an attempt to look semi-presentable. Now the TSA attendant is squeezing and poking said bun because you had forgotten you put bobby pins in it. People huff behind you because they are sick of standing in line. You might also be stopped because you had accidentally put one of a plethora of airline-inappropriate things in your carry-on. They will open and salad toss everything you spent hours packing carefully because you packed gel deodorant.
When you finally get through, you’ll slump over to the nearest bench to put all of your clothes back on, repack your bag, and fix your hair. You’ll convince yourself that you deserve an ice cream if you can score a cone before boarding time.
Once on the plane, you will be offered a drink. All snacks you must pay for. You are really happy you ate that ice cream when you had the chance.
Domestic flight at Rotorua, New Zealand
You arrive at the airport an hour and a half before departure time.
You walk up to the ticket counter and tell them you just have a carry on. The attendant asks you for your last name. They do not ask for an I.D.
The attendant takes your carry-on luggage and weighs it. It’s under 7 kilo (15 pounds), so the attendant puts an “approved” sticker on it. The attendant gives you your ticket and asks you to go to the next counter to pay a $5 airport tax.
You walk up to the counter with no line and pay the tax.
Eight minutes after arriving at the airport, you are looking for security. There isn’t any. None. Zilch. Not even a little tiny peek into your luggage or into the bun in your hair. Feeling sheepish, you get a coffee and marvel at all the extra time you have.
Your plane comes and you walk onto the tarmac and climb the stairs onto the plane. No one checks your ID or any of your belongings. You definitely have a full water bottle in your carry-on bag, and no one knows. You feel a little mischievous.
After take off, you get a drink AND a free cookie. Eureka!