Air Travel and Customs

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Home Jamaica Home Page Observations

It is not easy to get to Jamaica from Fairhope. There are few flights out of the Mobile airport, and all connections are through Atlanta. Moreover, our reservations were changed several times as Air Jamaica canceled and reinstated flights. Barney’s unsuccessful attempt to buy his ticket with Delta SkyMiles didn’t help, either, as the result was that his seat assignment was invariably in a different row from Matthew’s and mine (though in most cases he and Matthew swapped seats). Although our flight to Kingston required three legs (Mobile-Atlanta-Miami-Kingston) and our return only two (Kingston-Atlanta-Mobile), in both cases the trip took all day, mostly because of long layovers.

In some cases the layovers were a good thing. We hadn’t realized we’d have to leave a secured area and endure a second security check in the Miami airport. That took time. And on our return through Atlanta, we had to claim our bags and recheck them after going through security and Customs. That took even more time.

I’ve always believed that Thoreau hit the nail on the head when he said, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” This trip was a classic example. Since I had not worn (or even owned) a swimsuit in years, a vacation that involved beaches required purchase of that at a minimum. Having endured the agony of looking at my 58-year-old maintenance-deferred body in a variety of ugly Spandex and settled on the least unflattering version, I then thought it wise to acquire some sort of cover-up for the time when I was not actually in the water. I would also need shorts (another item I hadn’t owned or worn in years) over the suit for our climb up Dunn’s River Falls. And special water shoes for the climb as well. And two huge tubes of SPF 50 sunscreen. Since we had no clear idea what our activities would be, Barney and I both overpacked. In my case, every outfit seemed to require a different pair of shoes. We also took gifts for our hosts, books to read, cameras and film, etc., etc.. So we had a lot of luggage. Our hopes of returning lighter were thwarted by our souvenir and gift purchases. If we had it to do over again, we’d probably take just about as much, but we’d be sure to have smaller bags we could use for the side trips (for the trip to Portland and Ocho Rios, Barney and I combined our clothes into one of our big suitcases).

Having breezed through security at the Mobile airport (for once my purse did not require hand inspection), I was surprised to be stopped in Miami. After the TSA agent had gingerly probed the contents of my purse several times without, apparently, finding what he was looking for, I said, “Perhaps if you can tell me what you’re looking for, I can help you.” He said, “Something that looks like a lighter.” I suggested that it might be a lipstick, and that in fact proved to be the case!

Leaving Kingston, I again had no trouble (a relief after waiting in line for over an hour to check in), but Barney’s carry-on was inspected. The security agent unwrapped and scrutinized everything, including the jar of guava jelly Barney had bought as a gift for his father. When he came to the plastic bag containing foil-wrapped packages of wedding cake Mrs. Damdar had sent home with us for our fathers, he looked up inquiringly. When Barney said, “Wedding cake,” he dropped the bag like a hot potato. Since Jamaica is a popular spot for “destination weddings” (and honeymoons), it’s likely that wedding cake is not an uncommon souvenir. But this experience gave us some useful information: if you want to smuggle drugs through Jamaican security, wrap them in foil and identify them as wedding cake!

When we got to the gate, Matthew was “randomly” chosen to be pulled aside for additional screening (purely on the basis of his appearance, of course). He said the inspection was a joke, as they missed several of the many zippered compartments of his backpack. Meanwhile, I was being pulled out of the line and sent around the rope to rejoin Barney and Matthew at a point about six feet away; I never did figure that out!

Surprisingly, though, Customs did not give us any trouble on either end. As mentioned, we were sent through the “Nothing to declare” line in Kingston. In Atlanta, we were also apparently identified as harmless tourists and again told we had nothing to declare. Somebody on our flight was presumably not so lucky. As we were waiting for our bags to show up on the conveyor, a zippered soft-side bag came around for the second time. Somewhere on the back side of the carousel either someone had tampered with it, or it had been so overstuffed that a mere touch had been the last straw for its zipper. In any case, by the time it came back around, it was spilling its contents. The security agent immediately pulled it off the conveyor and, wearing rubber gloves, began to pick up the strewn contents and pile them back into the bag. It was an extremely embarrassing assortment of toiletries and other personal items, which would have been bad enough. But Matthew spotted what he said was a hash pipe that appeared to have been used, and I mentioned to the security agent that she might want to call one of the drug-sniffing dogs over to have a whiff. This was not going to make someone’s day! The security agent said that if the owner was smart, she would just walk away.