I haven't flown in a few months so haven't had too many treacherous experiences lately, but there are definitely challenges when flying Muslim in America. The first challenge, is the prayers of people around you BEGGING God that you not be on the same plane as them. Literally I've gotten out of my car and seen people doing the whole "forehead, chest, shoulder" cross thing. Chill out, people. I may be on your flight independent of what you're asking God... pray for your safety in general, not your safety from me, please.
Next, comes the ticket line, when people automatically try to help me because clearly I cannot possibly speak English.
Them (Yelling, in caveman language): "YOU INSERT YOUR BOARDING PASS NUMBER HERE"
Me (quietly, in perfect English): "Yes, thank you. I know...."
Then, we go through security - the FUN part. Everyone is looking at me like I MUST have SOMETHING in my bags that ain't gonna make it. I stress about this for at least a month before I fly.
The first joy of security is the awkward "how you look and your name don't match up" look that I get from TSA.
Yes, I know, Hannah Nemec-Snider, and I'm wearing this on my head.... it may not add up to you, but this is Amurica, sir. Look at my ID all you want, nothing's going to change. And please, check the hologram on the ID 72 times. It won't change. I'm still white. It's a real ID. And yes, this is still on my head. Move along.
And THEN - the climax of the whole event - The conveyor belt of doom.
The entire time I am FRANTICALLY stressed that even though I know that I read the instructions on what can and can't come in my carry-on and how to label it and clear plastic baggies for my shampoo, it is SUCH a hassle to - within a 14 second period - take off my shoes, put my laptop in a container, take out my liquids from the plastic baggie, and smush my carry-on into a tiny little conveyor belt.
I was deathly scared when I looked like your average white girl before this process - and now I'm seven times more stressed.
This should literally be an event in the Olympics. WHO THE HECK DOES THIS GRACEFULLY?
I look like a scared rat for these entire 14 seconds.
Then, I step through the scanner. Without fail, I am asked to step to the side.
They ask if they can pat me down. I say, yes, as long as it's a girl. They touch every millimeter that is my body. The girl is always super short, so I have to squat the entire time so all 5'9'' of me can be pat down.
They ALWAYS get extra thorough on my head - check my hijab, pat it down, touch my bun in the back of my head, pat every inch of me. Easiest one was Cleveland and LAX - not sure why. Hardest, most annoying was Boston. WOW. That's all I have to say.
Then, they always say "enjoy your flight!" as if they didn't just finish touching me more intimately than I expect my husband to on my wedding night.
Disgusted, I go to find my gate. As I walk by, I continue to hear the prayers "Please, God, make sure she's not on my flight."
Then, I finally arrive at my gate. I take a seat. I always get there early so that I don't have to be the one that awkwardly sits next to others and freaks them out.
I'd rather they be "stuck" sitting next to me.
A couple times I've given up my comfy waiting seat to elderly women and people were VERY relieved that I was forced to stand. I'm thrilled my comfort upsets you. You're welcome.
One of the MOST AMUSING parts to me of the entire experience, is the utterly TREMENDOUS effort that other Muslims and I make to ensure that we do not interact in ANY POSSIBLE WAY while waiting for the flight. No eye contact. No salaams. No acknowledgement. If I clearly have a question, no one is willing to help me. We do not speak ANY Arabic to each other, even if they don't speak English. It is the most disconnected event in the entire Arab world, I feel.
I think that it derives from the fear that others may feel we are all connected and this may freak out the other passengers. Like maybe we have a secret plan or something? I promise, I have never met any of the other people on our flights EVER in my life.
An added bonus on my last trip was the fact that my athan went off on my phone - louder than normal - while waiting at my gate. "ALLAHU AKBAR" is not the last thing you want to hear before you board a plane, I guess.
And then, ah, we finally board. I get more crazy looks at the disconnect between my name and my ticket gets the final check from the gatekeepers.
I start walking down the aisle on the plane - at this point people are praying SO HARD that I don't sit next to them, I get emotional about the spirituality in the room. More prayers are said in this few minutes than probably ever in entire lifetimes for some of them.
And then, I sit, in my seat. Next to someone that is eyeing me up and down the ENTIRE flight. No one next to me EVER sleeps even a WINK.
When we arrive at our destination, safely, without any disturbance from me - besides maybe my horrible snoring the entire flight - I get a feeling of thankfulness when I get off the plane. I feel like people want to shake my hand and thank me. People nod at me and smile, with gratitude.
SURPRISE! YOU'RE ALIVE!
You're welcome that I was a normal person, people. You are SO welcome.
And then, I forget about the whole thing until my trip is over and it's time to go back home, when I get to have the same exact experience all over again.
May Allah (swt) safely deliver all people in the world to their destinations, and may the stereotypes fade over time. And, please, Ya ALLAH, make the security process less stressful on me. The heart attack I experience every time I have to fly is not good for my health.