The Allentown-Bethlehem airport is really small. It currently has a perky little website explaining how it’s an international airport because you can get a flight to Toronto from there. Once upon a time, they used to keep the planes in dinky little hangars that looked more like garages. I remember flying to Allentown to visit my grandma when I was young and it was such a small airport at the time that not only did my parents think it perfectly fine for me to fly by myself but you actually had to get out of the plane and walk across the tarmac to the terminal. They still do this in our local regional airport here in Saint Petersburg, but I think that’s just so they can show off how warm it is when you arrive.
Admittedly the Allentown airport has grown a little in the intervening years. They now have actual escalators, for one thing. Also,
by the big sign announcing the Lehigh Valley International Airport from
the road, somebody had added to the airport ambiance by setting up about three dozen plastic lawn
flamingos. I wish I’d gotten a picture because they looked very
cheery, if a little startled to suddenly find themselves in Pennsylvania, against the wintry day.
Somebody in the FAA has also decided that the Allentown airport needed a first-rate security system. They have these new baggage scanners that look like something you’d find in Frankenstein’s laboratory with flashy lights and space-age silhouettes. Because of the way the airport is set up, you have to check in for your flight then drag your bag back over to the TSA employees in their red baggage jumpsuits, they put everything through the scanner, then they have to wheel all the luggage back over to the check-in counter so the check-in counter employees can put everything on the baggage conveyor belt. It seems a little silly to me, but they do it with great intensity of purpose.
While we were checking in, the airline employee circled a code on our tickets and said to us, “See that? It means you’ve been pulled for the high security check when you get downstairs.” She asked us if we’d changed anything about our flight reservations, saying that’s what usually flags people up. We replied we had, and that it had to do with a funeral. She said she was surprised they’d pulled us even though we’d already explained everything to the central reservations people.
We went downstairs to face our extra-special security treatment. I must say that in the past Allentown airport is the only place in the world where I’ve had an asthma inhaler taken away from me and put through the X-ray machine a second time, so I was feeling surly at the prospect of an even more thorough security check. I would also like to point out that Allentown is highly unlikely to be a hotbed of extremism, unless you count their fondness for cheesesteaks made with special cheesesteak sauce and the cheese on the bottom near the bun instead of on the top the way those crazy Philadelphians make them. I just can’t picture anybody entering Allentown airport with the sincere attempt to foil the security personnel in a dastardly demonstration of daring.
While we milled around the newsstand my mom joked with me that we were probably getting the extra checks because I’d been such a pain at the airport in Cairo. I’m probably on the list of Pain in the Ass Passengers Who Need to Learn a Lesson in Airport Etiquette now, and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life in the special security lane. I didn’t think this was very funny.
When we first arrived at the extra security lane, the lady looked at our tickets and took note of the airline we were flying, saying that that particular one accounted for at least half of all the people sent for extra security checks. In this case it was the airline who’d flagged us up, and some people at the Allentown airport seem to think that our particular airline is a little overzealous in pointing out suspicious passengers. This sentiment was echoed by the people who carried out our security check, who joked mildly with us as we sat waiting for them to finish up with our bags. They obviously didn’t perceive us as a threat, but they were nevertheless very thorough in their screening, scanning and swiping, making sure to open ALL the compartments in my zippered computer bag.
At the end of the security check the TSA employees punched holes in our tickets so the gate personnel would know we’d been screened and were clear to get on the plane. It was only later that we noticed the shape they’d punched into our tickets: two tiny little hearts.