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I Was A Victim Of Discrimination At The Airport & It Sucks

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I Was A Victim Of Discrimination At The Airport & It Sucks

I Was A Victim Of Discrimination At The Airport & It Sucks

I was a victim of discrimination at the airport for the first time in my life. I’m not talking about “he has tattoos, let’s pat him down,” which has happened to me a zillion times. I own the fact that this was a shocking experience for me because it was the first time I personally was a victim of discrimination at the airport. As a white male from the Western world, I get a lot of free passes in life. I own that and am aware of it. I’ve always benefited from my white privilege, until this past week. I want to share with you what happened.

The Trip

I flew from Brazil to Lomé, the capital of Togo, located on West Africa. This included an overnight stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, since I was flying on Ethiopian Airlines (see review here). Until my arrival in Lomé, things were going well. Togo has visa on arrival, which is very straightforward. Get in line, pay the fee, wait 5 minutes, leave with passport.

After receiving my visa on arrival, I went to the customs / “nothing to declare” lane to exit the airport. Via WhatsApp, I already knew the driver from my hotel was waiting outside. This is the point at which I was a victim of discrimination at the airport.

How The Discrimination Started

To pass through customs, I showed my ticket and my passport. Their eyes LIT UP when they saw a Brazilian passport. Nothing about me was overly conspicuous. I had on plain jeans, a solid-colored long-sleeve shirt that is intentionally non-attention-grabbing while covering my tattoos, and a baseball hat. I had a plain mask. When I travel, everything is as intentionally boring as possible to not draw attention and reduce hassles. I also wasn’t the only foreigner arriving. But the moment that Brazilian passport came out, their eyes lit up and jaws dropped. They sent me for secondary screening.

That alone isn’t enough to say I was a victim of discrimination at the airport. It’s what happened next over the following 3 hours.

Discrimination At The Airport

I would forget it and move on if they simply opened my bags, realized I had nothing, and that was it. From the start, however, I could tell something was off. Togo is a French-speaking country. I speak French decently well—not perfect, but pretty good. Since they started speaking to me in English, I decided it was in my best interest to not let them know I speak French. I used this to listen to what they said, thinking I didn’t understand. This is where the discrimination comes in.

I was a victim of discrimination at the airport & it sucks
They took apart my suitcase to look for a false bottom / look inside the handle.

After they searched my bags, they then TOOK MY SUITCASE APART. They were absolutely convinced I had something. There was a sense that they wanted to have a problem, not that this was just a random check / standard procedure.

When the 2 people searching my belongings reported to their supervisor that they found nothing, what happened next is the reason why I say I was a victim of discrimination at the airport.

“We didn’t find anything.”
“He’s from Brazil, keep searching.”

They decided that they needed to continue searching me simply for being from Brazil. Just because of where I live and what passport I was using, they decided that was pretext to continue the process. They assumed my guilt due to nationality. Literally everything I had with me was dumped out and searched again. They tapped on the straps and handles of my bags with various instruments, listening to see if there was something sounding different. As if they were audio experts detecting something hidden inside the handle—right.

It Gets Worse

Then, they realized I have dual citizenship. Things went bananas when they saw that I have a US passport also. OF COURSE! This was their a-ha moment. “He’s from Brazil, I told you…” was the pretext for this sudden crime I’d committed. I’d just become even more suspicious to them, as they now imagined my numerous fake identities and a life of crime on the run… News flash: having dual citizenship or 2 passports isn’t a crime. They were certain my passports were fake. I encouraged them to call the respective embassies and ask, so we could end this stupidity. They refused. If you are concerned about passports, wouldn’t you…call the official source? Continuing to detain me was the preferred course.

At this point, they patted me down AGAIN. Then, they told me we were going to the back room for a drug test. We’d been sitting around for 90 minutes at this point, and I was annoyed. I knew what the issue was, despite the fact they wouldn’t tell me anything. Their murmurs in French about “everyone from Brazil works with drugs” kept them going, despite having no real reason to continue this process.

In the bathroom, 2 people ordered me to pull my pants down and pee in a cup. They wanted to see me peeing to make sure there were no tricks involved. Theoretically, if I tested hot for something, would someone smoking weed at home last week be a crime? And would this test really hold up in court, considering the cup they used was one they grabbed from the snack counter nearby 30 seconds ago? I find that not very credible, not sterilized in a controlled environment at all. Side note: the 2 dudes who handled my pee cup to do a quick test on it didn’t wash their hands when we left the bathroom. Ewww.

Are We Done Yet?

Now that all 3 tests they did on my pee cup came up negative, we should be done. Right? “No, now you talk to the boss.” Great, when is he coming? No response.

Surprisingly, they never ordered me to stop using my phone or took it away from me. I used this to my advantage. First, I regularly updated the driver outside via WhatsApp. This not only prevented him from leaving me there with no ride, it also gave me a way to keep notes on the proceedings. Second, if they were convinced I was some mastermind drug smuggler, I needed to show them I’m not. I took screen shots of articles I’ve written on this site. Downloaded photos of me in various countries. Official US government websites showing that having dual citizenship and multiple passports because of it is totally legal. It was time to paint myself as “just a world traveler” and get out of the “drug suspect” category.

Discrimination at the airport due to what country I'm from.

The Boss

When the boss arrived, I had a ton of knowledge from his team whispering about me in French without knowing I understood. I knew their idea was that “people from Brazil only come here to sell drugs” and that my passports must be fakes. Combatting those directly was what I needed. I was also increasingly annoyed with how nonsensical the process was.

“Hey, your team thinks I’m involved with drugs. I did a pee test with a negative result, and here is a giant tattoo on my leg that says ‘drug free’. They searched my stuff many times. I’m just a traveler trying to visit every country in the world. Here are pictures, here is information on dual citizenship, and everything your team thinks it knows has clearly been wrong. What else do you need, so I can leave?”

He asked them in French, and, yup, they found nothing. He looked at some of my pictures, sent a text message to his supervisor that I’m just a world traveler, and I was on my way. The guy who had been murmuring about “drug dealers from Brazil” made sure I put my bags through the scanner at customs, since they…didn’t know what was inside? I left the airport after 3 hours of hearing how I clearly was a drug mule, because everyone from my country is a criminal. That’s prejudice, big time.

Twice, Just To Be Extra Annoying

For sure, I was a victim of discrimination at the airport. Lest you think this was just a random screening gone bad or that I’m exaggerating, let’s talk about my return to the airport.

I decided my Togo experience was not a good one. Lomé isn’t a very big city, and I felt like I got my fill in one day. That night, I changed my ticket to leave and decided to head to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire the following afternoon.

Guess who was waiting for me at check-in for my flight.

The same “he’s from Brazil” guy and the boss from the drug team.

“You told us you were staying longer, but you are leaving in 1 day. Why did you lie to us?”
“I changed my ticket. Do you think I felt welcome in your country? I decided to leave.”

And back to the baggage inspection we want. AGAIN, they took apart my bags to see if there was a false lining, 2nd skin, etc. to hide things in. Once again, they did all kinds of tapping to listen for echoes, like something is hidden in the handles. And once again they patted me down, searched me, and questioned me. Again with the speaking in French thinking I couldn’t understand. “A Brazilian comes here and leaves after 1 day. Maybe he wasn’t bringing the drugs in yesterday, he’s taking them out today.” Right. Good job, Inspector Gadget, but your intel is garbage.

“So, why are you leaving after just 1 day?”
“Imagine you were treated like this when coming to my country. Would you feel welcome? And would you want to stay?”

They got my point.

Discrimination at the airport leads to ridiculous searches.
These are the bags I had. They were convinced the handles were hollow & filled with drugs.

An Interesting Surprise – Someone Helpful

When checking in, they told me I couldn’t bring my carry-on bag, due to small overhead bins on the plane. I needed to check it. Whenever I need to check a bag, I have yellow zip ties with numbers on the end. I put those on the zippers to know if someone opened my bag. My wife bought a bag of 100 of these for $3. A picture of this zip tie/code before dropping your bag is a pro travel tip. I absolutely wanted to know if my bag was opened–maybe forcing me to check it was a ploy to get to inspect my bag without me present, and I wanted a way to track it. (Note: my bag arrived at my destination with the zip tie intact.)

Numbered zip ties to see if someone opened your checked bag

While checking my bag, I asked the really friendly airline agent if there’s a website for the airport. My plan was to gather some information and include this in a message to my embassy about what had happened. She directed me to the information counter.

Imagine the jaws hitting the floor when the drug team saw me speaking French to the airport information counter employees. There was a lot of shuffling around and trying to not look interested in what I might be talking about. She gave me the website on a piece of paper. Some young guy in a yellow vest walked up to ask a question while I was there. No idea who he is, but he knows someone who knows someone.

While sitting at my boarding gate, that young guy showed up with the airport manager of all people. “This young man told me you looked really angry. He said he saw you with the drug control agents, and he said you are probably going to complain about what happened at my airport. Please tell me what happened.”

Recounting the Story of Discrimination

First, this guy must be insanely busy. I appreciated that he stopped what he was doing, found my gate, and came to talk to me in person. He easily could have sent someone from his staff. Again, this probably doubles back to my privilege. Would he have done the same for someone from a “less powerful” nation?

I told him that I spent 3 hours on arrival and an hour on departure being inspected by the drug control team. I told him about all of the various tests and lack of saying what the problem was. In my opinion, they intentionally didn’t tell me what the problem was, so it couldn’t be fixed. “We need to check your bag.” Check my bag, then it’s finished. If you don’t tell me why you’re holding me, you can keep inventing new reasons. I also told him about what I’d overheard in French by not letting anyone know I speak it. He was…not pleased.

He told me that I was welcome in his country, and he found it shameful I didn’t feel welcome as a guest. He invited me to return. I told him I didn’t plan to visit again, just wanting to leave and be done with Togo.

“I hope to see you again some day, honestly.”
“OK, maybe if you come to Brazil. I’m not coming back to Togo.”

Then He Did Something Stupid

Then, the manager did something really stupid. Maybe I should’ve bitten my tongue until I left. The manager went straight to the boss of the drug team and told him what I’d said. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that guy came and argued with me. I was lying. I made it up. They were just doing their jobs. “Holding me for 3 hours, while you inspected 0 other people during that time, isn’t just doing your job in my opinion. Plus, it doesn’t explain why your team kept talking trash about Brazilians all being criminals. Ne savez pas que je parle Français, non?” That was the end of the conversation, since they announced boarding for my flight.

Final thoughts on being a victim of discrimination at the airport

Final Thoughts On Being A Victim Of Discrimination At The Airport

My wife, growing up in Brazil and speaking English with an accent, has had very different experiences in life than I have. She is CONSTANTLY “randomly selected” for extra screening at airports in the US, simply if she winds up as the one brown-skinned person in a line of white people. My wife is ALWAYS asked multiple times to prove she has a business class ticket, yet mine is never checked twice.

I have some good friends who are from India. Every country they visit, they are set aside not for things like this but for verifying their stories. Call the hotel to see if the reservation is real. Check bank accounts to see if they have money to pay for their travels. It’s assumed they can’t enter until proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, whereas I enter countries with benefit of the doubt and even a handshake + “Welcome to my country!” I sympathize with my friends’ experiences and the things my wife has experienced. Being singled out when you’ve done nothing wrong sucks.

For the first time, I was personally a victim of discrimination at the airport, simply because of nationality. “All people from (country) are_____” is never an acceptable phrase. “He must have drugs. He’s from Brazil.” That’s not an acceptable mentality for detaining someone and taking their belongings apart. It’s not a just way to operate an airport or a law enforcement agency. It’s discrimination. Until now, these were always things that happened to other people. Now, I fully understand just how much it sucks.

Being a victim of discrimination at the airport definitely earns a spot in my travel horror stories.

Moving forward:

I notified the Brazilian embassy in Togo, and they’re super unhappy. I’m happy to be out of Togo, visiting places that actually want me to come there.

It’s also important to note that I think the people of Togo were really friendly, outside of this team at the airport. Just like I don’t want to be judged for the actions of my government, I don’t judge the people of Togo for what happened at the LFW airport.

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Ryan Smith
Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. “Whenever I need to check a bag, I have yellow zip ties with numbers on the end. I put those on the zippers to know if someone opened my bag. I absolutely wanted to know if my bag was opened–maybe forcing me to check it was a ploy to get to inspect my bag without me present, and I wanted a way to track it.”
    I use the TSA approved locks for my checked bags and immediately know if they have been opened by any customs/security agents as part of a secondary inspection since they leave a printed note/letter inside and from visual observation of things being moved around. So I’m unclear what the zip ties actually do for you? I like the idea but don’t understand what something like that proves vs. using the approved locks. Thanks.

    • Matthew – a few things. 1-those locks only work in the US, and any other country will simply cut them off. I’d rather lose a zip tie than those locks. 2-only the US leaves a paper telling you they inspected your bag, as far as I’ve experienced. I’ve never had another country leave me one of those notes. 3-the zip ties can also deter theft by baggage handlers. It’s probably not worth the time and effort to open my bag looking for cash or electronics, since they know I will know my bag was opened. I started using these zip-ties after my sister-in-law’s bag was searched/had items stolen by baggage handlers a few years ago. They want easy prey, and this is a deterrent. If TSA or some official body needs to open my bag, they will just cut it off, but my hope is that this deters the would-be thieves. In this situation, I also wanted to know if my bag had been opened because of the insanity of the situation. It was data collection for me.

      • For deterrent purposes, I totally get it. By the way, on my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, they left a very detailed inspection note inside one of our bags. It was not a generic ‘form’ one that the TSA leaves behind; this was a colored copy (one of a few that is torn off) with actual writing in the blank spaces documenting the date, time, description of the bag and the name of the person/inspector. So at least one other country does do it. 🙂

        And yes, you can use your other passport when you enter a new country upon arrival; doesn’t have to be the same one inputted on the outbound flight record.

        • Interesting about the note! Never seen one of those.
          I know I could have swapped passports during passport control/visa on arrival, I’m just saying that in this situation, if they saw ‘Brazilian’ in the arrival logs or were expecting me due to computer notification, etc. I wonder if that would make them more suspicious and make things worse. Or maybe they wouldn’t know who to look for and I’d just zip through the exit. A mystery.

  2. Wow, so sorry you went through all that. Don’t understand the negative comments on here, as I feel you were only stating your experience in Togo & how discrimination sucks. I appreciate your story, thank you for sharing!

  3. If Togo is experiencing a high degree of Drug Smuggling or Criminal Activity from Brazilian Passport Holders, they have every right to subject Brazilian Passport Holders to additional scrutiny, regardless of the color of their skin.
    Expecting the immigration or customs officials to pretend they are unaware of the large amount of criminals flying from Brazil to their country each day (If that is in fact occurring), is both naive and unrealistic.
    You have every right to avoid traveling to Togo in the future, and letting other Brazilian Passport Holders know about how they might be treated in Togo in the future, is probably a good idea.

    • Erik – If (that’s a huge “if”) that were happening, I wouldn’t disagree. However, I can’t find anything at all that supports this idea that there’s a trend they’re investigating. It seems more like “I watched Narcos on Netflix” as the source of this unfounded suspicion, given that I can’t find anything that supports this being a real issue.

      • I agree with you 100% and I’m glad you notified the Brazilian Embassy in Togo who can pursue further. No one should have to be harassed unnecessarily.

        I would like to believe the Togo Immigration and Custom’s officials have good cause for what they are doing, but you never know. Hopefully, the Brazilian Embassy will provide a follow up.

  4. I am appalled at what you went thru in Togo. I’m thankful for the time a writer takes to let others know about their experiences, so some of us can avoid that same experience going forward. Discrimination is awful, and it doesn’t matter what nationality, race, sex, etc., as you mentioned.

    I too would have left Togo. And I am amazed at the responses to this article from people who didn’t take the time to read it.

  5. Lesson learned Ryan! Being White does not mean you get all the free pass priviledges around the world. This world is full of prejudices to ALL skin colours and races. You are lucky, you have to spent 3 hours and not days in jail. Some of these over priviledges travellers here in boarding area should experience such situations to become more humble and get off their high horses atittudes.

  6. For a moment, can you imagine what this is like for minorities, particularly black or brown people in the US (or Black Brazilians), who are subjected to this type of scrutiny and discrimination every day? You experienced a sliver of a lifetime of what many, many people experience. I hope that you are able to develop a greater capacity for empathy and will use this experience to combat systemic racism and anti-Blackness — both in the US and Brazil

  7. I’m a middle aged white guy. On a 2 day trip between the US and New Zealand, I was stopped and questioned for 30 minutes. Crazy, a middle aged white guy going to NZ for 2 days. They didn’t understand the concept of mileage run. I had to be up to no good. Who flies all that way to spend 2 days? Made no sense to them. And me, a middle aged white guy. Go figure.

    Good thing I had the local number of a friend that was waiting to pick me up.

  8. I don’t know…
    Perhaps i’m not woke enough and in touch with my white privilege…

    Decades ago, as a young white male with, then, long hair, a friend and I got stopped at the border returning home to the U.S. from Canada. They suspected something and thoroughly inspected the car we were driving along with its contents. So be it. It was what is was. I don’t hate Canada or the United States.

    Were they profiling based upon our appearance. Certainly. That was their job and I know, to this day, that Customs and Border Agents use profiling based upon statistical analysis. It’s not foolproof, but they do it because it works. Life isn’t always fair…

    While I can understand how you initially felt angered and unwelcome based upon your experience at the airport, to leave the country early and not experience whatever you had wanted to experience, such as its people, culture, and sites of interest, strikes me as an immature overreaction. Almost as if you are stereotyping a society based upon the actions of a few.

    Sometimes in life you just need to suck it up and move on. I wish you well in your future endeavors and travels and hope that your future positive travel experiences far outweigh the negative.

    • Ron – I specifically mentioned why I left and that I don’t judge the local people for this. It’s in the article 🙂

  9. Excellent article. Glad you are safe. Can you please add a link for the tags. Do the numbers mean anything or is it to discourage people who think it might mean something?

    • The numbers are just sequential. Their only purpose is that I know if you cut it off and put on a new one, because it’s nearly impossible for you to find that exact number and put on a replacement.

  10. You were the victim of abuse at the hands of the government. That’s why I am against big government bureaucracy and vote for candidates that want to dismantle excessive regulations and eliminate nanny state laws that criminalize every facet of our lives. Government always operates backwards. Instead of stopping illegal aliens and protecting the freedoms of citizens (speech, religious, economic, and personal), govt. abuses citizens and legitimate tourists. We face the same nonsense here with TSA, Customs, searches of electronic devices at the border, and the patriot act, while illegals get to roam free, have kids, and commit a disproportionate amount of violence and breed poverty.

    The war on drugs is the culprit for so many abuses because it is used as a pretext. We wouldn’t have these abuses if governments around the world didn’t criminalize personal freedom.

    This situation sounds like the same evil done with Qatar. It might be wise for us to start boycott these countries and campaign against abuses that happen in western countries in jails, prisons, and airports.

    I feel sorry you were subjected to abuse. There is validity to crime statistics and some groups committing a lot more crimes than others. It forces decent people to flee to the suburbs and rural areas. It forces companies out of neighborhoods that are likely to be looted. However, government shouldn’t be using statistics to harass and abuse people at the airport. Government sucks. That’s why I always vote for lower taxes, less laws, free speech, gun rights, religious freedom, and more power of the individual over government. Big government means bakers being forced into bankruptcy for not baking a cake against their conscience, for people being arrested for worshipping in a church (but not 10,000 who riot in a violent protest), and for homeowners being arrested for collecting rainwater.

  11. As you go after all the passport stamps in the world, you are bound to run into a few hassles. Especially true for boomerang trips with short turnarounds. The closest I’ve come to Togo was on a bus from Seattle to Vancouver a few years back where the Canadians made everyone haul their own luggage (no driver help) out of the inside of the bus and under the bus and haul it into the customs facility where you had to stand in line (no sitting allowed) for a process that took over an hour involving an agent asking each passenger all manner of questions. That never happens when coming in by train, but the tracks were closed for repair that trip and the border folk were just “having some fun with Americans” (something to do with the Canadian border patrol being pissed off about something going on at the Blaine border crossing). Unfortunately, they tossed one of our passengers (US resident, not citizen) off the bus for some paper technicality and he had to have a friend drive up from Seattle to resolve the issue.

  12. May I ask why you opted to use your Brazilian passport versus the US passport? Seems to me you were discriminated simply because of your passport (not skin color).

    • That is exactly what I said – due to passport. Not sure why you’re mentioning skin color.
      Since I was flying from Brazil, I’m required to use my Brazilian passport to exit the country.

        • Ben – theoretically, I could flash my other passport at exit, but couldn’t that cause other problems? It’s not the passport listed on the ticket, for example. Plus, I had no idea it would matter.

    • From a comment below to someone else: “I’ve considered that in other situations, where “is there something we can do?” (never say the word bribe/money) can move things along. In this, I definitely felt that would be a sign that confirmed my guilt in their eyes, making everything much worse.”

  13. Good article. I think it’s probably more of a case of profiling. This is not a tourist destination for westerners.

  14. You are a whiner. This is not out of the ordinary to stereotype based on country. You can’t deny Brazil has a reputation for drugs. But why anyone would bring them to africa i don’t know.

    They didn’t discriminate based on your skin color.

    • Debit – I hope some day you can find happiness within yourself, so you don’t feel the need to only be negative to others. I hope you find what you’re looking for some day.

      • Thank you Ryan and I hope you never get caught on your drug runs to africa 🙂

        This was not negative. I am sorry i hurt you. I thought you would be insensitive to web criticism by now. Thinking a Brazilian might be a drug runner is not out of the ordinary. Those guys might know more. Maybe they were expecting someone from Brazil.

        Frankly this should one of the interesting tales you tell people than use it as a discrimination badge. The fact is you have a blog to air out. Many go through this and don’t make a big deal. for someone who travels a lot this should be par for the course by now. Anyway i don’t want to judge but l think they picking on you for being Brazilian makes it less discriminatory than having picked on you for skin color.

        • Debit – to clarify: you didn’t hurt my feelings. My comment was based on the fact you seem like a really unhappy, negative person. I get that you attempt to troll us, but rather than snapping at you or whatever it is that you seem to expect, I actually just feel bad for you. It seems like you’re just a really unhappy person. I hope you can find what it is you’re looking for some day. Everyone who reads and comments on our site is well aware at this point that you just come here to be snarky, as other comments have pointed out. It doesn’t ruffle me in the least, I just see it as a sign of you being unhappy inside. I hope you can find something to make you happy some day.

    • Debit

      Stereotype = discrimination.
      Skin color = racism

      Ryan never mentioned the latter at all. Not sure where your comment comes from but it is somewhat expected from you.

    • Jesse, great points, and I agree. People who are chronic victims of discrimination would never have felt entitled enough to have “the last word” with the airport manager the way Ryan did before he boarded his return flight. His white privilege afforded him that. People who are discriminated against on a regular basis know how to shut up, nod and smile, to escape further problems. But once in a while their rage boils over and they act out aggressively. Then the discriminators declare that rage as proof that the particular group of people aren’t equal, and discrimination is strengthened.
      By Ryan telling the airport manager that he’s never coming back to his country, even after airport manager pleads with him to reconsider, Ryan is exerting his white, American privilege and putting the airport manager in his place.
      Ryan, you could have taken a higher road and accepted the manager’s apology, imo. It sounded like you enjoyed making the airport manager feel small and inept as payback for the actions of his staff, and you loved that the embassy was so unhappy with the airport after you spoke to them about the experience. I’m sorry you experienced discrimination, but as soon as they realized you were a white financially stable American male, your entitled status returned. It was just a case of mistaken identity customer service snafu.

      • Where did you read that I was putting him in his place? Or that I did so and enjoyed it? You are reimagining a situation in a way that couldn’t be further from the truth, adding things that didn’t happen in the least. Your description of what you think happened isn’t even a story I recognize at this point.

  15. It is possible that it was a ploy for a bribe but you never offered it. In the neighboring country of Benin, I know someone who was stopped and extensive searched. Eventually, they were told they need an injection at which time another passenger interrupted and asked if it were possible to pay a “fee” instead of the injection. Yes, in cash, no credit cards. Payment made, no more injection requirement.

    It is plausible that for 3 hours, they were hoping and waiting for you to offer to pay for expedited screening or if you could pay for x-ray searching instead of dismantling the bag.

    • Derek – I’ve considered that in other situations, where “is there something we can do?” (never say the word bribe/money) can move things along. In this, I definitely felt that would be a sign that confirmed my guilt in their eyes, making everything much worse.

  16. I am a native born (NY) American citizen. I have held a U.S. Passport continuously since 1991. I had a somewhat similar experience way back on May 1,2001 -(FOUR MONTHS+ before Sept 11, 2001) I still remember the date because of how horribly I was treated. On that day I was 48 years, 162 days of age. ( I was not a “minor child”) I had just arrived at Vancouver BC Int’l Airport Canada after a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong (a very civilized country- not a “third world’ one). THREE different Customs/Immigration officials peppered me with the same set of questions – Why was I in Vancouver, where was I staying, for how long, what was my occupation and salary in NYC, what was my father’s occupation plus others too numerous to mention. After that, one of these officials proceeded to take me aside. There I was asked how much money I was carrying. I was also subjected to a “pat down.” All in all, these “procedures” consumed more than ONE HOUR. When they were finally done, I was allowed to exit. No explanation and certainly no apology. I have had other “negative” experiences in other parts of Canada (Montreal, Toronto, the U.S./Canada border at Buffalo NY/Fort Erie ON) but this one at Vancouver Int’l was by far the worst. My advice: If you are flying to Vancouver, do so from another Canadian city. It would be a “domestic” flight. NO QUESTIONS from airport employees.

  17. Wow, that is a chilling story to read. It was written very well and gave me such goosebumps. It is so sad to be discriminated against. Imagine how the black people in our country feel when they are stopped by the police. Most are already a criminal in the eyes of the police. Imagine Middle Eastern people with hair covering entering the USA or even Europe and how they are treated. The more, I travel, the more I see that we are all the same and it is really sad to see people being treated so differently based on things they can not control, such as gender, skin color and place of birth. I am always happy to see someone get into this hobby to travel the world as I think the more you travel, the more you realize that we are all the same.

    • Bob – to be clear, it isn’t racism, since I wasn’t singled out for the color of my skin. I’d just call it discrimination or bias.

      • This happens all the time. Ugly people are discriminated against in TV news. They cannot be anchors (presenters). This also happens in jobs where it is very competitive but not in jobs where the employer doesn’t have a large pool to choose from.

        This also happens with the US visa waiver program. Passport holders from the UK, Australia, France and others don’t need visa but those from Pakistan, Nigeria, and Russia do. The US explains it by saying the illegal overstay rate has to be below a certain percentage for a country to be eligible but that is still discrimination, albeit one with an explanation that some find logical and some do not.

  18. Your response is kind of amazing. You aren’t worried about your safety or your freedom or your ability to travel, just time and annoyance so you treat it like a customer service issue. Discrimination isn’t a customer service issue. The daily lived experience of much of the population is fear, intimidation, and rage. Still your main thought was to inconvenience others. The driver you kept waiting for three hours. The airport manager who you told you were “done with Togo,” essentially your own form of bias assuming one experience represents the entire country. People who are victims of intrenched bias can’t afford to be rude and probably have a lifetime of actual disadvantage which means they don’t have a driver waiting. Perhaps you might have said wow this opened my eyes, I will donate the rest of the cost of this trip I skipped to X organization that fight bias. This article just makes me wonder what the make equivalent of a Karen would be called.

    • Jesse – your comment seems like you didn’t actually read the article. I specifically mentioned things you said I didn’t mention, and then you’re upset that I didn’t respond the way you think I should respond.

        • Ryan you took my comment @Wes out of context. When you travel to a foreign country the only “right” you have are the rights that Country tells you who have. That’s just a fact. We don’t have to like it. That was my point of that comment. Too many people travel to foreign countries and start demanding their rights. Has nothing to do with your article… just on the comment “stand up for your rights”
          Personally that’s why I don’t travel to countries that have clear human rights violations. Anyone who does and then acts shocked when they were treated poorly…amaze me.

          • There’s a lot to unpack here in your comment, but I’ll just sum it up by saying I disagree with everything you’ve said.

          • @Ryan, you disagree with everything @Dublin says?

            So you disagree that the only rights a foreigner has in a foreign country are the rights that country affords to people? What happened to you in Togo might be officially illegal, but unless it is enforced it is functionally legal to treat people the way you were treated.

            You can complain to your embassies that you weren’t treated the way you expect to be treated as an American/Brazilian, since you are accustomed to US laws (and maybe Brazilian laws), but you have no “right” to complain.

            For example People that come to the US and are abused by the TSA have no “right” to complain since (sadly) the TSA agents are within their federal rights to do just about anything as Gary from VFTW has often posted about. If you fly through through the US as a foreigner (or even a citizen) then be prepared for whatever the TSA May dish out.

          • Ben – Dublin’s point is not the point you are asking about, from how I read it. I agree that I don’t have different rights than anyone else in a country, but what rights “they say you have” vs “what rights the country affords” aren’t the same thing, not as far as I see it. One comes off like ‘functionally legal’, as you mentioned. I believe I have the right to tell my embassy what happened and for them to address it however they see fit. My email to them simply told them what happened, included a picture of my boarding pass & passport, and then that’s it. I didn’t tell them what actions to take or expected outcomes, because I simply am not an expert in that area. But I believe I have the right to do that, as anyone has the right to notify their embassy. What happens next? Who knows. And as you mentioned, TSA is notorious for mistreatment, which is another discussion entirely.


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