My first international trip was to London in 2014. It was for work and would act as my barometer to gauge if I could handle additional international travel. Overall, the trip went well, with only minor hiccups, and I concluded that I could handle it more frequently. The final test was to pass through security, board the plane, and trust Delta to get me home.
London's Heathrow Airport is massive, clean, and displayed a level of technology I had never seen in an airport. It has since become more common, but this was the first place I saw levels of automation in the airport security process. It was impressive.
As I approached the front of the security line, I prepared to disassemble my baggage and clothing like I do when going through every other airport security check. I took note of the passengers in front of me and how they methodically complied with the system Heathrow had established. As a foreigner not wanting to draw attention to myself, I followed the rules and tried to act like a pro.
Along with every other personal item security requires you to display on the belt, I pulled out my nebulizer. I've been traveling with a nebulizer since my first family skiing trip when I was eight. Nebulizers were quite new at that time and raised a lot of questions. That was 20 years ago and CPAP (constant positive airway pressure) devices and nebulizers are much more common. I rarely got a second look from security during domestic flights. “Let's see how Heathrow handles this,” I thought.
As I feared, back to 1993 we went. My nebulizer was pulled to the side for further evaluation as I entered the body scanner. The body scanner alerted the officers to something on me but that wasn't my concern. I didn't take my eyes off my nebulizer. I was not going to allow it to get lost in the shuffle. I watched while unaware of the security officers patting me down.
I felt hands on my chest and heard the security officer in thickly accented British English ask, “What's this?” with a hand on my port. I was a little annoyed because I was now encountering another delay before reuniting with my nebulizer. I tried to explain what a port does -- but must have done a poor job -- because he radioed for a supervisor. By this time, my head spun in different directions, and I was no longer sure what to be more concerned with -- the whereabouts of my nebulizer or the issue with my port.
I was told to follow another officer. By the time we reached the end of the belt, my nebulizer had already been swabbed for uranium (I assume that's what they swab for) and cleared of all wrongdoing, and the officer allowed me to retrieve it. My problem with security wasn't what I anticipated.
The officer led me to a small room with a small table and two (you guessed it) small chairs. I was confused as I looked around. Soon, two more officers enter, which put the room at capacity.
It was an intimidating situation, to say the least. I, again, tried to explain what my port was, but I could tell the explanation wasn't landing. Still struggling to convince them it wasn't a button to a doomsday device, I offered to take my shirt off. They looked at each other as if they were having a telepathic conversation that I think I overheard: “Can we allow that? Is this a trick?” One officer agreed as long as I was comfortable doing so.
“Whatever gets me out of this room,” I thought. I showed and explained my port and greatly enjoyed the looks on their faces. I felt like part zoo attraction and part science project. It was comical to see their demeanor change. They started rough and tough and ended thinking my port was cool and wishing me good luck and good health as I left the smallest room in the world.
This is an example of what it's like to travel overseas with cystic fibrosis and how one event, which only lasted about 15 minutes, can contain almost every emotion. It taught me that I can handle international travel. My best advice is to plan and prepare wisely. But, most importantly, plan to be flexible. The trip won't be 100 percent perfect and adaptation is key to enjoyment.