In my limited flying experience, I have encountered people dressed a variety of ways. But it is the immaculate dressers who never cease to amaze me. Men wearing razor sharp suits at 7 in the morning and women gliding in their 7 inch heels ready to outdo the plane on the runway. I always marvelled at why anyone would go through so much trouble merely for a commute. I observed these specimen from the comfort of my track pants wondering what it would take for me to become them. Except this one time when I was scheduled to fly back to Frankfurt after a month spent at home it was slightly different.
Owing to my meticulous planning, I had reached the airport early. Owing to some packing decisions, I was dressed in a a new outfit. I had also just gotten a haircut so I wouldn’t have to get one in Germany. Long story short, I looked okay. As I kept glancing at the information board to check if the counters had opened. When they did, I ran up to the counter, feeling immensely smart for having the foresight to have done a web- check in. The lady at the counter was wearing a dark blue overall and a red lipstick. After looking at my passport for a minute, she informed me that my visa had expired. Convinced that she was mistaken, I explained to her that I had a one year multi-entry student visa, which could not have expired in six months. After consulting with her colleague and seemingly convinced with what I told her, she handed me my boarding pass and my passport. I glanced at the visa stamp on my passport only to realise that she was right. The visa stamp on my passport had printed October 2015 int he ‘valid upto’ column. I remember thinking, either that was a typo, or I was in great trouble. Still wondering what the problem was, I trotted along to the immigration. Now I know from experience that immigration is a line of government officers viciously guarding the duty free shopping area. I remembered before my visit to Thailand when a sleepy looking salver-kameez clad me with hair spilling out of a braid, encountered an immigration officer who seemed convinced that I was a victim of human trafficking even after I presented every document that he asked me for.
This time, I wondered how I had managed to turn up to the airport with an expired visa. This seemed like something one would prepare for in advance. As I walked up to another immigration officer, I tried to assure him that the expired stamp on the passport was all the visa I needed. However, unlike the ‘lady at the counter’ he did not give in and kept insisting that I must have a ‘card’. As I politely pleaded aimlessly, I was increasingly becoming convinced that I was not going to be able to board the flight. Somehow, just before I was going to give into dejection, my rational brain decided to come back to its senses and I realised that I had obtained a one year residence permit months ago. I showed him the permit, and was cleared in less than three seconds. As I walked on, I couldn’t help but think, how I had managed to obtain the boarding pass despite the obvious inadequacy and the way the immigration officer had the patience to repeatedly explain to me what he needed after I had failed to produce the singular piece of evidence required to be presented at immigration.
As I pondered this enigma over breakfast with idli-vada and filter coffee, my thoughts were interrupted by a friendly looking airport worker, who came up to me and asked, “Seri?” (which in this context translated to “Are you finished?”) before whisking away my plate. Pleased for having been mistaken for a tamil, I thanked him and proceeded to my boarding gate. Over the walk from food court to the boarding gate, I realised that instead of a security tag only a loose string remained attached to my handbag. Clearly, my troubles for the morning were not over. I dreaded having to go all the way back to some security counter established for fools like me who misplaced their security tags. But there was no way I was going to be able to get in without a security tag. Helpless, I went up to the gate crew to tell them that I was going to need another tag. Funnily enough, it turned out to be the same lady who had issued me the boarding pass. She merely smiled and informed me that one of her crew would shortly help me, and I merely had to wait. Surprised and happy that she hadn’t told me to go back to the security check, I waited and waited, until the boarding finally began and I was still without a tag. As I proceeded to board mouthing and pointing that I was still without a tag, I was merely ushered on with understanding nods. How could that be right, I was being let on a flight with a bag minus a security tag. I was a self- declared safety hazard.
As I approached the the last checkpoint I saw an officer checking boarding passes and security tags and I became convinced that that was going to be the point, where I am sent back to redo a long string of security processes. Amidst mounting tension, as the lady before me was checked for her tags twice, I awaited my ordeal. However, contrary to what I expected, I was let inside with a mere look at my boarding pass and a huge smile.
I could not understand this behaviour. The day was turning out to be contrary to everything I had experienced on flights thus far. Despite my callous behaviour, the airport staff had been unfathomably patient and helpful contrary to numerous occasions when I had to deal with numerous hassles despite having had proper documentation. And then it dawned on me that the only difference that airport staff perceive between me today and me every other time was the appearance. Every other time I had all requisite security tags but was plainly dressed. This time however, even though I acted like a certified idiot, I happened to be dressed fine. The realisation that the world judges you merely on how you look was not a surprising one but was unsettling nonetheless. I wondered how many well dressed idiots are walking amongst us being allowed to do what they are doing as long as they look all right.