It was March 12 on a chilly-sunny day in Boston when I decided to fly back home because of the Covid-19 outbreak. I had only two choices for my transfer location in my flight route. Fly to Hong-Kong, where it is near the place from where the virus originated or to New York, the epicenter of travelers worldwide and the highest state with confirmed cases at that time. Either way, I would still be sitting down with a sore bum for at least 16 hours. On top of the unproven ergonomic structure of airplane chairs in economy class that causes uneven weight distribution, I just did leg day, and my glutes are killing me.
I had one medium size box, one large luggage, one small bag, one backpack, and one gym bag. My clothes, shoes, and other stuff were just squished and thrown inside. It took me a lot of effort to close each one. I had to sit on my large luggage just to zip it up.
When I finished packing, I realized that I forgot to pack my toiletries. I was tired. I was lazy. I had enough. My flight was in a few hours, and I still had to bring my other stuff to the storage center. Since my luggage was full and my toiletry bag can’t fit, I shoved the shampoo, soap, toothpaste, powder, etc. in between the empty spaces where it could fit. While doing that, I could hear my dad giving me a long lecture and saying somewhere between the lines of "My son, what are you doing? Didn't I teach you?".
On the way to the airport, I already knew that I had to unpack and repack my bags. In my previous flights, there was no time where I did not unpack my clothes in front of everyone in the line. It was a regular routine for me. I accepted it. I'm a typical Filipino that brings pasalubong each time I fly back home.
Stepping down from my Uber in my terminal, I found out that I had to take 2 elevator rides, 1 escalator ride, and a gradual uphill stretch of at least 100 meters to enter the other building where my check-in was. Funny thing is we weren't allowed to use the airport cart on the way there. At that instance, I said to myself, "Well, this is the start of my journey."
I looked like I was migrating to another country. On my left hand, I was pulling my small luggage. On the right, I had my box on top of the large one. The backpack on my back and the gym bag across my body. Other travelers were asking me where I'm off, too, and the same reply I give to all - "I'm done with this place, I'm going back home." Some would just nod their head in agreement, and the rest would hysterically laugh as if I intended to make a joke.
I Checked-in to drop off my pieces of luggage, went through the security check, bought some water and dinner. I sat down near my boarding gate. Excited, sad, anxious, happy, and unsettled. All I could think of is that I would be adjusting to a new life the moment I land. Taking my classes in the middle of the night until right after sunrise. I was not ready for it. I would live like a bat. In fact, you can call me Batman. Stuck in my house, asleep during the day, awake at night, all bodyweight because I can't go to the gym, and fight for justice. In my case, the impartiality I was disputing for was concerning the failed acknowledgment of my school for students like me. Yes, they have addressed and adjusted the academic structure in compensation to the ongoing Pandemic, but how about students like me taking virtual classes on the other side of the world. It was unparalleled.
The flight to New York was just an hour. I used this opportunity to catch up on sleep and rest because I am not familiar with JKF airport. I knew I had to find my way and figure out how I would transfer to my flight towards the Philippines. Low and behold, I was right.
Since there were no straight flights from Boston to the Philippines, I booked my flights separately. This means I had to get my luggage in the baggage claim area and bring them to wherever my check-in is. Sounds so simple, right? But no. Check-in was in another terminal. I couldn't do anything about it. I shook my head and said, "[rhymes with an animal that quacks], here we go again."
1 train ride, 2 escalator rides, and at least 1 kilometer of walking all in all. Wouldn't hurt? Oh…I forgot, I had one medium size box, one large luggage, one small bag, one backpack, and one gym bag—all in all, I’d estimate that I would be pulling and carrying at least 100 kilos.
At last, I was in my respective terminal. My last escalator ride going down - all I saw were thousands of people lining up and moving around. From afar, the people looked like ants. People speaking different languages from left to right. Where am I? the UN? I'm in New York, baby!
That enthusiasm lasted until I realized that I had to go through all the crowds like it was a fiesta. People were not wearing any masks, and a virus outbreak that the world has never seen is occurring at that moment. I wouldn't be surprised if I catch Covid-19 from JFK airport. From what I saw and what I'm about to go through, it was inevitable.
My body was tired, I lacked sleep, and I was not even halfway back home. I was lost looking for my airline check-in booth. The terminal was so big that it could fit at least 3 Philippine airports. ‘All I had to do was check-in and board the plane, and all is good,’ I told myself. It took me roughly 45 minutes to get through all the people and the back and forth walk to end up in the back of the line. But hey, at least I found it right?
Lining up, I saw this familiar face. She was a friend who went to the same high school as I did but currently studying in New York for college. We caught up and were so amused by how small the world was. Then, she counted my box, luggage, and bags. She pointed out that we can only have 2 carry-ons and 2 check-ins. "Oh, ****!" is all that I could say.
I'm a student that can barely afford to buy a cheeseburger meal with fries and a drink in McDonald's. How can I pay for my extra baggage? I had to think of something.
The only thing I could do is hide one of my carry-ons somewhere the airline staff wouldn't see. But that looks suspicious. Imagine security looking at an unattended suitcase in an area hidden from the naked eye. Having the pre-conceived perception of certain people in America having a specific stereotype for a brown person like me, I wouldn't take that risk.
I asked my friend if she would be willing to help me by holding one of my carry-ons so the airline staff wouldn't count it as mine. She agreed. After roughly an hour of standing up, it was finally my turn.
Lady: "Sir, can you please put your box on the weighing scale, please?"
Me: **carries the box**
Weighing scale: 25kg
Me: "Alright, we good."
Lady: "Sir, can you please put your check-in luggage on the weighing scale, please?"
Weighing scale: 25.5kg
Lady: "Sir, your luggage is overweight."
Me: "Miss, it's just .5, is there an exception?"
Lady: "Sorry, sir, the only way we could accept overweight luggage is if you would pay $250."
At that moment, I didn't even reply. I got my luggage, put it on the floor, and unzipped it. Usually, I'd feel embarrassed. I mean, who wouldn't? You're opening a bag that contains items that represent you as a person (as what my Aunties would say).
The lady told me to unpack on the side so she could entertain other travelers. I went to the side where there weren't many people—the side with airport security and sniff dogs near the restrooms. "No, biggie," I said to myself. It's a routine. I accepted it.
As I was unpacking my bag, I saw white powder scattered all over my clothes and other stuff. The powder bottle somehow exploded with all the weight and pressure. It was messy. Each time I'd remove a particular item, the powder would blast to the air and floor. The security guard and his sniff dog approach me. He stopped, looked at me, and said, "Sir, I need you to step away."
Initially, I was not worried because I thought it was normal. Airport security doing the job. But as I stepped away, the dog came in sniffing, and the guard seriously focused on his dog, it hit me.
Brown person. College student. Overpacked bags. White powder all over his stuff. What's your assumption?