In Transit to Belize

I’m booked on a convoluted flight to Belize from the UK via the United States.  There are no direct flights from the UK to Belize, or for that matter from anywhere in Europe to anywhere in Central America, so I have to change planes somewhere.  New rules introduced by the US government over the last few years now mean that everyone transiting through an American airport has to have completed an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) – a kind of electronic visa that allows you to travel to, or transit through, the country.

In my case, I’m simply changing planes, but I still have to pass through immigration and collect my bag.  And then go straight back into the airport and do the whole process in reverse to get on another plane.  Although I’m familiar with filling in visa application forms, when completing the ESTA form online the day before the flight I’m struck by the questions they ask of each passenger.  After the usual details regarding names and passport numbers and dates of birth, there are some questions that the Department of Homeland Security need to know my answers to.  And they range from the obvious to the downright bizarre.  Question 1: ‘Do you have a communicable disease, physical or mental disorder, or are you a drug addict?’  I like how I can have one or the other, but not both – I can be insane and have rabies, or I can be a heroin addict, but I can’t be an insane rabies-carrying heroin addict.  If there are any of those people completing the form, they’re stuck at the first question.  And it’s not like they haven’t got problems already.  Although some people that know me would disagree about the mental disorder part, I put No to that one.  Question 2: ‘Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime involving moral turpitude?’  Turpitude?  I thought that was what you cleaned paintbrushes with.  I had to look the word up on Google to find out what it meant just so I could answer the question.  It’s conduct that’s considered contrary to good morals, for those who are interested.  And it includes, amongst a good many other things, arson, fraud, murder, and two crimes termed ‘lewdness’ and ‘mayhem’.  I couldn’t work out if I’d ever committed the last two, so I put another tick in the No box.  Question 3: ‘Have you ever been involved in espionage or sabotage, terrorist activities or genocide?’  Come again?  Does someone actually answer yes to that question?  What kind of people are the US government hoping to catch out with that one, the world’s stupidest spy?  The kind of terrorist who turns up at the airport wearing a balaclava and carrying a ticking rucksack?  And there’s more.  The question continues ‘between 1933 and 1945 were you involved in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?’  Excuse me?  You’re looking for dumb ex-Nazis now as well?  Or possible just forgetful ex-Nazis, after all the war was so long ago maybe they can no long remember their death camp experiments.  I’ve never been asked such questions before, and I’ve been to Australia, where they ask you if you have any soil on you.  After I stop laughing I try to imagine what sort of person would tick the Yes box, some senile octogenarian German doctor who’s flying in from Paraguay perhaps?  You wouldn’t have caught Gregory Peck in ‘The Boys From Brazil’ out with something so obvious.  It makes you wonder why they even bother asking.  If someone’s prepared to kill themselves and innocent bystanders for their beliefs, they’re hardly going to get worked up into a moral froth about telling a few porkies.  But the questions will stay, and we’ll keep on asking them in the vain hope that our random, hidden and constantly changing enemies will somehow fall into our trap.  The War On Terror would be so much easier if all those bad people just told the truth…

Back on the infernal machine: London to New York, New York to Houston, Houston to Belize City, another marathon of boring flights, constantly surrounded by my own personal circle of hell.  Sitting next to the fattest/loudest/smelliest people on earth, the engines droning on and on, the tedium so mind-numbing that I almost wish for something exciting to happen, like some turbulence – anything to break up the boredom.  It’s like being in some never-ending state of suspended animation.

Is there anything so expensive and yet so demeaning as economy class on a long flight?  Stacked ten across, staring straight ahead, legs crushed, knees up round our ears, eagerly waiting for the slop trolley to make its way down the gangway to us.  Ah, here it comes – that familiar brackish waft of burnt coffee, the plastic trays of food that would probably cause a riot in a prison.  And let’s not forget the in-flight ‘entertainment’ – a constant dribble of American rom-coms and inoffensive U-rated pap, interspersed with handy little facts about our air speed, ground speed, altitude, the local time, our ETA, the outside temperature…  Does anyone actually read these factoids?  Does anyone care how cold it is outside, or how high we are in metres AND feet?  Why don’t these flights give you some useful information about your destination, such the number of men in the country who have beards, or the amount of custard eaten per year?

Oh God, another film, starring quite possibly the world’s most unfunny man, Adam Sandler.  Watching him is about as amusing as being shot in the face with an arrow and then finding your credit card bill attached to it.  And if I see Sandra Bullock smiling at me from the screen one more time, I’m opening the emergency door.  Being sucked out into the freezing ether has got to be preferable to that.  I find myself looking for any diversion, anything to take my mind off the boredom – I can’t look out the window at the sky anymore, I can’t sleep, I don’t want to speak to the person next to me (he’s fast asleep anyway, snoring like a grampus), and I’ve read every word of the in-flight magazine.  I now know much more than I ever wanted or needed to know about salt mining in Bolivia.  If only I’d brought the sleeping pills…

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2 thoughts on “In Transit to Belize

  1. JP , nice to see you landed safely and sorry to have missed you before you left.

    Also nice to note that they’ve not managed to get you on the old ‘moral turpitude’ charges, especially as you cant manage to do your trousers up ….,a couple of weeks in Guantanamo would have only added to your troubles I think.

    Having said that, Steve is planning on coming over to NYC to visit Dave on New Years so you’d have had company eventually ….. I mean if what he did outside that dive bar in Romford wasn’t turpitude , then I’m not sure what is.

    Hopefully you’ll be posting some photo’s soon ? , I can view your Flikr account on my TV now via the laptop so I’ll be able to see your shots in full 42″ HD Technicolour …so be careful what you post wont you , no more buffalo sacrifices please.

    Take care , and see you soon

    Jeff

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  2. Jeff – I can do my trousers up, I just spend the whole day involuntarily exposing myself to everyone I see. And that includes all the people who notice the strange white man walking down the street yanking at his crotch! Lucky I’m working for a charity for blind people…

    As for the photos, I was planning on getting shot of my Yahoo account, so that’d mean no more Flickr. At the moment all my previous photos are now on my Facebook page (oh I am just so achingly hip and trendy!). And I was planning on putting a selection of the rest on there in the future. I may investigate another photo-sharing website, in the meantime maybe you should bite the social networking bullet! Cheers, JP.

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