marlienebastien_fc.jpgFive years ago, I chose to travel via Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. I found it to be traveler-friendly, with a great remote parking system, buses to and from the area running smoothly, and few surprises.

Security lines, albeit long, usually moved very quickly. Topping the list of appreciation for most is the cell phone waiting area, where families can wait for their loved ones’ arrival.

Inexplicably, things changed drastically when I traveled to Reagan National Airport in the Washington, D.C. area last week. I spent an hour waiting to check my luggage at the curbside.
Upset travelers expressed their discontent to Spirit Airlines employees who – though generally very kind – snapped  back with impatience. They all looked exhausted.

In my wiser years, I have trained myself to confront life’s disappointments with the perspective that, “It could be worse.”

When I finally made it through security, my plane was boarding. No time to catch up on reading. No time for a little bit of coffee, which meant that I would have to pay $2 for a boost of caffeine with my credit card, since no cash is allowed.

To cope with the increase in oil prices and to maximize their profits, some airlines are running mini cafes during all the flights. Customers must foot the bills, no matter what!  Only a cup of water is free.

My nightmare began on arrival at Reagan National. No one could find my luggage! By the time an elderly lady showed up to process the loss claims – showing no  enthusiasm, no empathy – I was already an hour late for my meetings.

The Liaison hotel provided me with articles of daily hygiene, but I was most overwhelmed by the kindness extended to me by other people at the conference. They were a diverse group of immigration advocates from around the nation.

The meeting was organized by the Four Freedom Funds, a national entity created to develop, fund, and coordinate the communication works of immigration advocates fighting for immigration reform and integration.  

Jerry Gonzales from the Latino Community Development Fund offered me a shirt, several ladies, white, black and Latino invited me to peruse their suitcases and take my  pick.  I ended up sharing with Maria Rodriguez, the Florida Immigrant Coalition executive director.

Despite the cynicism and atrocities in the world today, acts of kindness abound everywhere we look. I got my luggage the afternoon before my return home.

Back at Reagan National Airport, a group of Chinese children was taking pictures in front of Sen. Barack Obama’s portrait. They were so ecstatic that I stopped to look at them. Later, one of them was pulled from the security line so that her backpack could be checked. Sheer excitement grew among the group. There was a buzz of fast comments and speculations.  What could it be?

Everybody was talking at the same time. I did not understand a thing. A Transportation Security Administration officer with a stern look on his face walked the young girl solemnly to a table behind a glass wall. The rest of the group watched intently on the other side.  The suspense was palpable! 

I thought to myself, “They are probably concocting the biggest story of their young lives, already projecting how they will recount them to their own children, and maybe great grand children.’’ Why not?  This was an opportunity. I stood there, praying that no one ask me to move.  The search began in silence complet (Haitian Creole for “complete silence).”

Everybody seemed to be holding their breath. The little scared face watched intently as the TSA officer dug all her 12-year-old girl stuff out.

Finally, he pulled out a big tube of barely-used toothpaste.  It joined the pile of water bottles, deodorant, mouthwash and french perfumes already there.

I thought about Haiti and other needy countries around the world.    The group released a collective gasp of disappointment, turned around without a word, and left. In their young minds, they were expecting something more, more threatening!

I understand the concept of national security and the necessity to ban suspicious items, but shouldn’t common sense be used…sometimes?

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.