Barcelona’s El Prat is my favorite airport in Europe for the simple reason that the security guards trust the passengers. Their abundant faith in the basic goodness of humanity was confirmed when I flew from the Catalan capital to Frankfurt-Main without being asked to show a shred of identification.
After a delayed departure, I landed in Frankfurt with less than thirty minutes to catch my connecting flight to the USA. But the long, slow-moving line of cheerless passengers at the first security checkpoint suggested that this airport did not consider me, or anyone else to be a trustworthy traveler.
One at a time, we were searched and scrutinized by the stern Saxon sentinels. “It’s for your own security,” shouted a customs agent wrestling a rosary loose from a devious looking nun.
Those of us who passed the first test were sent on to the next congested checkpoint where for every security guard working, there were five others chatting idly. This was an obvious attempt to provoke the psychologically less stable among us into a self-incriminating fit of frustration. Most of remained calm but it did help shorten the line a bit.
Plane after plane departed as we were herded through increasingly difficult tests designed to ferret out passenger treachery. A Turkish diplomatic was rudely told he would have to wait ten years before being allowed in the queue reserved for “EU Nationals.”
An immodest body massage from a former East German border guard contributed to my mounting anxiety. Did Germany want me to stay here forever? And why had Barcelona been so eager to see me leave?
The next line quickly halved when EU citizens lacking passports with US government required magnetic strip were sent off for blood samples. At the next interrogation station, families were grilled separately. Fretful husbands turned against their wives, and promises of “Kinder Eggs” induced terrified children to denounce their haggard parents.
Longing to be trusted again, I scanned the departure list hoping to find a plane back to Spain, but I was trapped. My self-pity was interrupted by the cries of a lost Ukrainian child. Fortunately a noble couple offered to adopt her on the spot.
At the next station we exited German territory and entered the militarized zone that now extends beyond US territorial waters and into airport corridors around the world. We had passed the point of no return where Europe ends and the tightly secured land of the free begins. US security officials, probably Halliburton subcontractors, verified that no riff-raff had slipped through the gaping holes in the German security dragnet.
Leaving no stoner unturned, a teenager was dragged away when the guards found a Cat Stevens song on his iPod. An elderly man with a titanium hip implant set off the metal detectors so many times that a US Army Surgeon was summoned to remove it.
By this point, so many people had missed their flights that Lufthansa announced a special government program where, for 100,000 frequent flier miles, we could obtain temporary asylum in Latvia. Those who expressed interest were immediately arrested. I'm happy to report that German prisons have vastly improved over the past few decades.