Never Put Important Articles Through an Airport Security Chekpoint

This should have been my first post on this blog. This starts the category of “Life Tips”. I should explain the story behind putting this post up today. As I prepare for my plane trip to Hawaii in August, I am reminded of what happened to me last year on July 7th. I arrived at Chicago O’ Hare to come back from Tokyo to America. Naturally, I had to go through Customs to come back in America. I had never been through U.S. Customs before that day, so I was not aware of the process. Also bear in mind that I just came back from a nearly two week long trip in which I was greeted by tens if not hundreds of polite Japanese people in stores, restaurants and even arcades.

Well, I just got off of a 12-hour flight, which actually felt pretty good because it was 2 hours less than the first flight to Japan. That first 14-hour flight was pretty bad, but this flight wasn’t so bad. Well, I actually felt like I was going to get sick as we were descending, but as soon as we hit the ground, my stomach settled. It was really strange, and I was fortunate. Well, I entered the airport, descended a story via an escalator and approached the Customs area. There was a section for visitors and residents. I went to the appropriate line and waited. I noticed that the line I was in was to an older man, probably around 50 years old. The lady whom he was talking to looked angry, and it appeared that she was telling him off about something. It took a while before she left, and you can’t hear what they’re saying because they’re far away. There’s a line you have to stay behind, likely and understandably to make each inspection discrete.

When it was my turn, I greeted the man as follows, “Hi, how are you?” in about as friendly a manner as I could muster. I understood his authoritative position, but didn’t predict what his attitude would be like. The very first thing he said after taking my papers and not even acknowledging my greeting was, “What food you got?”, just like that, and in a discomforting tone. Well, I actually wrote a paper on this, but to save space, I’ll simply say that I was only bringing back candy. I was describing the candy as best I could, and he said in his rude tone, “Candy, candy, candy”! “Yeah”, I replied. “Is that all?” the man asks in an almost disgusted tone. “Yes”, I replied. “Are you sure?” he asks. “I think so”, I reply, with the suggestion that I could continue to think about what candy I had. “You think so”, he repeats. “Well, I’m going to have to send you through the X-rays”. I didn’t even know that was a bad thing. I was just standing there a bit struck by disbelief. After I catch up with my group, they make a big deal out of the ordeal. “I shouldn’t have to go through the X-rays”, I hear from one of them as I discover that I really am the only one.

Every single person past that rude man at Customs was overly nice to me. Even the lady who directed me to the X-rays was reassuring. Now a bit shaken, I tell her, “Hi, I got an ‘X’ on my paper. I think that’s bad.” Reassuringly, she says, “No, that’s not bad, I just need you to go over to where the green lights are”. Of course, it’s literally a half mile away passing a bunch of red lights where the X-rays could be open. Anyway, that went real quick, and I came back to my house, crying for a bit, after holding it in for how I was treated all day. I don’t cry easily, so that’s how I remember that. Well, this is a story, so you’re probably wondering where this is going.

The next day, July 7th, I turned on my camera to review all 681 pictures (40 of those videos, or MPEG files). I just came back from an amazing trip to many places in Japan-I wanted to see all of them. Even my mom got to look through some of them. Keep in mind that these pictures were all on an SD Card (2 GB). The camera was a nice piece of work that my mom brought from school for me to use. Not that I’m trying to brag, because even the people on my trip know this, but I probably had the nicest camera there. Why? It had a 10X optical zoom, whereas everyone else just had pocket cameras. I undoubtedly had the best far-away shots. Well, besides all that, they were my pictures, and my memories. Some of those memories were of my best friend, Taihei Yamamoto, with whom I stayed for a few days as a homestay. I knew him from two years prior because he stayed at my house in America. Those pictures were one-of-a-kind.

At some time in the middle of the afternoon, after looking through the luggage that came late (oh yeah, that Customs guy caused my baggage to be delayed), I turned on the camera to look through my pictures for like the 5th time. But this time, the pictures didn’t load. Instead, the screen said, “Memory Card is Corrupt”. My heart sunk at that moment, because I realized what had just happened. All those pictures, all those memories, were gone forever. That’s it. Because I sent my SD Card through those higher-powered X-rays, the card was shocked and somehow lasted for about 24 hours before it just stopped working. That’s the worst ‘bad’ thing that’s ever happened to me. That was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. He knew how hard it was to get me to Japan, and all he wanted was some pictures. He cried for him and me. I never cried about it. Those memories are always there. I fortunately watched some of the videos so many times that I still vividly remember them. I personally didn’t lose much, but the loss that the people around me incurred was great.

So many things could have prevented this specific incident. However, I typed this as a tip to all who read-do not put anything like that through X-rays. I don’t care how high or low powered they are. I am always going to put that SD Card, for which I got a free replacement in my pocket. And the laptop that I will soon have for college, I will ask a hand inspection at the checkpoint. Having a laptop and putting the pictures onto there is still not 100% foolproof-the laptop itself could be corrupted. Somebody could steal the laptop. I could upload them to the Internet, but then something could happen. There really isn’t 100% foolproof against it. The best thing I can do is take these precautions, and I urge you all to do the same.

Don’t let what happened to me happened to you. In fact, here’s a few more tips:

-Be sure of yourself. “I think so” is an answer that means that you aren’t sure. Of course I knew what I had, but the man didn’t know what I had because he wasn’t sure that I was sure. With security these days, ‘being sure’ is the priority. Being sure of yourself is important in every area of your life. It shows that you have authority and can be trusted. It goes a long way.

-Ask for a hand-inspection for anything you are not sure of. Film must always be hand-inspected, but even websites tell me that SD Cards are susceptible to shock, like what happened to mine. Obviously, you don’t need to ask for a hand-inspection on an item as small as this. Just put it in your pocket. Better to take an extra minute of your time to do this than to lose memories that you will never get back, no matter how much time or money is used.

-Ask to speak with a CBP supervisor if you have questions about the process or feel mistreated. Remember, you’re paying for these checkpoints and for these people’s jobs. Don’t neglect services that are available to you. While the man was doing his job in reaction to me saying, “I think so”, there’s no excuse for having a rude demeanor, especially when I was doing nothing wrong. My dad said he would have demanded for a supervisor rather quickly if that had happened to him. Again, I don’t share that mindset my dad has, but still, there was no excuse for how I was treated.

I was reading the CBP pledge on their website, in response to the inspection process.

  • “We pledge to cordially greet and welcome you to the United States”. Not even close; in fact, I, the taxpayer of this service, was the one who was being cordial.
  • “We pledge to treat you with courtesy, dignity, and respect.” Very debatable, and I would argue that I wasn’t treated that way.
  • “We pledge to explain the CBP process to you.” Nope, not once. Did I have to ask to receive this information? Maybe, but even then, I didn’t know what was going on or what I was supposed to do.
  • “We pledge to have a supervisor listen to your comments.” Something I wasn’t aware of, or didn’t think about. Now I know.
  • “We pledge to accept and respond to your comments in written, verbal, or electronic form.” Yes, the only thing that was done correctly.
  • “We pledge to provide reasonable assistance due to delay or disability.” I should have pressed this issue. We almost missed our flight because of this incident.
  • I’m done. Thank you to all who read all this, and I really hope that I have prevented someone from suffering the loss of memories that I know I have in my head forever, but can’t share because of this incident.