Oh for the love of God

Seriously, what’s the beef with Pakistani travellers anyway? I usually feel like an impostor taking Business Class to go anywhere. But when you stride self-confidently towards the Business Class desk to board an airplane, only to be stopped by a member of ground crew so they can inspect your passports anew, the ultimate in humiliating airport shenanigans has been reached. What is the point of this? I mean are Emirates ground crew above the immigration officials who have inspected our documents and ascertained that we are of good crop? Our entry and exit visas have already been checked and it has already been ascertained that we have legitimate visas to our destination. And post this scrutiny, Emirates has put considerable effort into lulling us into a false sense of superiority by sending us off to the Business Class Lounge and feeding us everything from roasted nuts to Haagen Dazs ice-cream at 7:30 a.m. What if we partook of that luxury without being entitled to it? 

Because that is what this is all about – this game that human beings enjoy putting each other through, feeding the ego of some as others are snubbed, preserving the sense of entitlement some of us have while others trudge alongside, grey, faceless millions. So after all the razzmatazz, when you are ‘randomly selected for additional screening’, or asked to present your passports yet again at the final boarding gate so that an ordinary member of flight crew can verify the details contained within yet again, you feel not a little baffled. And then when this member of crew seems oblivious to being at all discreet and instead seems to relish calling out the names of your family loud enough for all on-looking passengers to hear, you feel your face flush hotly. Surely he can read each name and look up at the unfortunate souls before him to ascertain their identity. It isn’t as if he is presented with a great multitude of them to scrutinize in the first place. Four isn’t a big number. 

The sorriest realisation in all this is that you have been asked to present your passport because of, I’m sorry but you do have to hear the sound of these word being spoken out, your ethnic background. I invite you to imagine the scenario: a group of four seemingly innocuous-looking passengers approach the boarding gate, and BAM! ….are asked to present their passports. For all you know they could pull out Canadian or American or British passports. And then what would you do? Just looking at the colour of the passports would make them acceptable? Unless the ground crew have X-ray vision, allowing them to see through a canvas cabin bag and straight at the passports nestled in an outer pocket, they cannot know that we are Pakistanis? Which effectively rules out the possible theory that we were stopped because of our nationality. Which leaves the only other possibility as truth: we were not taken aside for any reason other than the most immediately visible one – our ethnic make-up. I cannot imagine Japanese or Chinese or other Far Eastern travellers being taken aside thus. Or African travellers. Or those of Hispanic origins.

And before I end my rant, I must relate what went next. Our humiliation complete, we held up our heads as best we could and proceeded towards the Business Class counter so we could disappear as fast as possible into the airplane. Only to be assaulted again by the same member of crew who gleefully informed us, ‘That counter appears to be closed. You should join the other queue.’ The counter in question had a couple waiting at it as another crew member presumably had a go at them. We decided to put on our most polite deaf ear and continue to stand in this queue, determined to wait it out until our turn. At which point, we were accosted again and asked to join the other queue. By this time I was really having a hard time keeping my thoughts to myself so I asked, with what politeness I could muster, what the point of joining the other queue would be since I would have to wait at either. ‘I will let you through here,’ came the godly reply. ‘Give me your boarding passes madam.’ The moment the boarding passes were in the hands of the gentleman in question, he strode straight into the Economy Class line, without a moment’s hesitation and asked the stewardess at the counter to let us through immediately. I stood mortified. I hate being rude, I hate appearing superior, I hate appearing as if I am taking an unfair advantage from those around me. And yet here I was, with my three children, barging into the middle of a queue and expecting to be admitted on a priority basis. The cross-cultural training of a few days ago loomed up into my consciousness. The ladies who should rightfully have been served appeared to be French-speaking Swiss women. I turned to them and apologized for having taken their turn. They smiled warmly and assured me that they were not offended at all and noted that I had children in tow.


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