The Christmas day failed bomb attempt by UMAR FAROUK ABDULMUTALLAB will remain indelible in the annals of world history especially for Nigerians. This act is not only condemnably; it has portrayed Nigerians in bad light anywhere they go. Nigerians are now looked at as potential terrorist.
It was not unexpected that soon after the incident security at airports around the world was beefed up even as Security Agencies in US, Nigeria and Amsterdam are still grappling with the details of how Umar got on the plane with the explosive substances. Passengers now go through strict and tight security checks and also spend several hours at the airports before they get on plane. The body scanner machine will soon be the new wave in airports security. One does not have a problem with strict airport security including “show body” if only it will keep us all safe while flying; but one is tempted to question the rational behind one new rule being introduced at airports. The new rule is the one that bans carry-on luggage with rollers into the flight cabin, all because of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
I had looked forward to my travel date of 18th Jan to Houston, TX, USA with mixed feelings and as the day drew nearer I couldn’t stop wondering what Umar has gotten us all into. Lots of things went through my mind. As a frequent flyer I know to be at the airport on time. So despite the warning by the airline to be at the airport at least 2hr before departure I made it to the airport 4hrs earlier, especially after futile efforts to check-in online and print my boarding pass; reason being my country of citizenship - Nigeria. My US Airways flight from Calgary to Houston with connection in Phoenix Arizona was on time for 3:35pm local time. I checked in at the kiosk as usual and since I had only my usual carry-on bag and no reason to check it in, I proceeded to the US Customs and Border Agency. Unlike most days the line was scanty, few minutes wait, it was my turn. The officer I met was courteous and cheerful but will not fail to ask me amongst other usual questions, “When last did you travel to Nigeria?”, “2yrs plus”, I responded. He smiled and stamped my passport, wishing me a safe trip.
Since after the Xmas failed bomb attempt by Umar lots had changed at the airports. Aside the usual security checks, metal scan and newly introduced pat-down rules, I was shock to learn that carry-on bags having rollers are no longer allowed into the plane cabin.
As I made my way through to the Security I said to myself why did the officer asked me when last I visited Nigeria, but I could not come up with a better answer other than the thoughts of the unfortunate act of Umar. What a misfortune that has befallen Nigerians. As I turned the corner towards the security checked a gentleman stood by the way besides the checked-in luggage drop-off area; holding a sheet a of paper in his hands and literally pre-security checking bags. No doubt the sheet he holds are new rules I said to myself. I could over hear him telling passengers ahead of me, “you cannot carry that bag onboard the plane because it has rollers” Everyone shook their head in disbelief, asking why?? He said loud and clear, “It’s because of the failed Xmas attempted bombing.” When he came to me, he looked at my small carry-on bag with rollers though and said “yea, you can go with that” but alas! soon I was told otherwise.
Finally, I got to the security check; zipped open my bag brought my laptop out and about to take off my shoes – no thanks to the 2001 attempted Shoe bomber Richard Colvin Reid. One security officer, a lady walked up to me and a guy next to me and said “sir you can’t carry this luggage onboard because it has rollers”, I said “What?”, she said “yea, we didn’t make the rules”, you will have to go back to the airline desk and check in your bag” I almost freaked out but held my cool not unmindful of what Umar has caused for us all. The guy next to me- a white Canadian, was rather full of rage questioning the lady- “what is the rational behind not allowing carry-on bags with rollers while carry-on bags without rollers were allowed on?” No one was answering this question even as his voice attracted other passengers going through security. I simply grabbed my stuff and walked back to the airline desk and checked in my bag thus leaving me clutching my laptop throughout the duration of the flight to Phoenix and to Houston. My wrist was sore by the time I arrived Houston.
As I sat by the boarding gate 27 waiting for board time everyone gazed at me, some with smiles. I couldn’t help but wonder what is going through their minds each time my eyes come in contact with any one looking at me. Reprieve came when we started boarding but still didn’t connect the dots until I got on board the plane. As I walked through to my seat, it was obvious I was the one and only black man and perhaps the only Nigerian onboard the Phoenix bound plane. Ordinarily, this was not an unusual scenario for me. Severally, I have been on the plane where I was the only black person on board. But there was something seeming this time around. As I walked through the aisle to my seat all eyes kept prying at me. I kept wondering why all the eyes and attention on me. No doubt majority saw the imagery of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as they looked at me.
I took my seat feeling so depressed on the inside even as I looked out of the small window seeing the long wing of the plane. I imagine the pain the world would have gone through had Umar, the under wear bomber succeeded in blowing himself and the rest 280 passengers/crew up on board that Northwest Airlines Flight 253. How in the world did he develop such evil tendencies? I was carried away in these thoughts when two white female passengers made their way to sit beside me. They said “hi!”, I responded “hi!”. They looked pretty much like twins, but I later found out one was older than the other. It was a moment of relieve for me as we got talking. For the first time in nearly 2hrs I was talking to someone not thinking about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The two ladies didn’t only sound friendly they were excited to head back home. They came visiting Calgary from Orange County, California. We chatted of their experience in Calgary, the Calgary Tower, the cold and the snow. “It was a fun trip though”, one of them said. They like Canada and will like to come visiting again, they said. We chatted about the minor earth quake in Southern California and the worst human disaster in Haiti. What in the world is going on?
Pardon me for digressing. Soon the conversation with the ladies died down, I returned to my quiet moment and thoughts. All because of Umar, I kept wondering how the rest of passengers on board including the two sitting besides me perceived me. As we journeyed through the nearly 3hrs flight from Calgary to Phoenix, I held my pee, not because I was not hard pressed but because I kept wondering what will be going through the minds of the passengers and crew should I get up and walk to the toilet. As I sat quietly lost in these thoughts imagining how much longer Nigerians will have to endure this psychological trauma Umar has put us through since Christmas day; I asked myself will this stigma ever go away? Will America and indeed other developed Countries declassify Nigeria from that potential terrorist list?
All because of Umar, should this new restriction on carry-on bags subsist many travelers will have to go shopping for carry-on and laptop bags without rollers.
PS. For the records on my return flight to Canada from Houston on Sunday 24th, there was no form of restriction on carry-on bags as every passenger was allowed their carry-on luggage whether it had rollers of not. My guess is, different rules apply at Airports in other countries outside the US. We will see how this turns out in the coming days.
Fubara, Shed - a former Student's Union President, a community activist, writes from Alberta, Canada.