Airport Experience

An Airport Experience

(Told in the present tense as it is happening.)

A friend and I are going to a business meeting in Athens, Greece. We take a taxi from the hotel to the airport. The taxi driver comes to a fork in the road with two signs saying ARRIVALS and DEPARTURES. He takes the DEPARTURES road and drops us off at the airport entrance for departing flights.

Our suitcases are the rolling kind (with wheels) so we can pull them along behind us. Our flight is UA123, so we go to the United Airlines (UA) ticket counter, buy our tickets, and check our bags. I have one carry-on item, a bag with a laptop in it. We get our boarding passes and are told to proceed through Security (the security area) to Gate #12.

We follow the signs to the security area and see a long line (queue) of people waiting to be processed. We stand in line and wait. Finally, we become next in line. First, we have to show a TSA (Transportation Security Agency) officer our boarding passes and passports or other form of ID (identification). Then we proceed to the screening area, which consists of an X-ray machine, a metal detector and an explosive detector, sometimes called a sniffer by people in the know (knowledgeable about such things).

We take off our shoes and empty our pockets and place our shoes and loose items onto a moving conveyor belt that carries our items through the X-ray machine to check for contraband items like knives, handguns, and liquids that exceed three ounces in volume. I also have to send my carry-on bag through the X-ray machine.

We then walk through the metal detector one person at a time to make sure we aren’t hiding a weapon on our body. My friend goes through first without incident. When I step in, the machine alarms! Whoa, what happened? Ah, my watch! I forgot to take off my watch. I step back, remove my watch, and send it through the X-ray machine, after which I then pass through the metal detector without incident.

I then step into the sniffer and stand still (no movement) with my hands held above my head. A quick puff of air hits me, and then a TSA officer motions for me to exit the machine. We made it through without being hauled away as terrorists. Whew!

We put our loose items back in our pockets, put on our shoes, grab my carry-on bag and proceed towards our gate. We stop and peruse a few of the shops. We have some time before our flight leaves, so we stop at a Starbucks stand and have an espresso and a cappuccino while we wait for our departure time.


We go to Gate #12, where we see a sign that says our flight will be departing on time. That’s good. We sit down and wait. An airline attendant at a desk near the gate announces that they are ready for us to begin boarding the aircraft (plane). We line up and pass by her desk as we enter the ramp that will take us down to our plane. As we pass by her desk, she scans our boarding passes with a handheld scanner. This is done not only to make sure we are on the right flight but also to take a tally (total count) of how many passengers board the plane. We wouldn’t want to leave anyone behind, would we?

We enter the plane and we find our seats. My friend has a window seat and I have an aisle seat. I put my carry-on bag in an overhead bin and sit down. We fasten our seat belts and watch the stewardesses demonstrate and tell us about various safety procedures. Finally, our flight takes off and we are on our way to Greece!


  1. Contraband (noun) – Forbidden or illegal items
  2. Peruse (verb) – to browse or glance over something for a quick check or overview
  3. Aircraft (noun) – a general name for any kind of airplane
  4. Ramp (noun) – a sloped pathway from a higher point to a lower point (or vice versa)
  5. Scan (verb) – to read electronic data from a bar code or magnetic strip on a piece of paper or a security card of some type
  6. Handheld scanner (noun) – a portable scanning device that is small enough to be held in your hand
  7. Screen (verb) – to search people or things for dangerous items; to filter something
  8. Board (verb) – to get on an airplane, train, boat, or bus (implies you walk onto the vehicle)
  9. Set off (verb) – to cause an alarm to sound (turn on or actuate); to trigger a trap or bomb or alarm


  1. What does a sniffer check for? (metal/liquids/explosives/weapons)
  2. Someone says they see a fork in the road. Would you (a) pick it up or (b) look for a directional sign?
  3. What is the difference between a carry-on bag and a check-in bag?
  4. What do we call the waiting area where you line up to go down a ramp to board an airplane?
  5. Why do passengers sometimes have to take off their shoes in the security screening area?
  6. When an airplane leaves the ground, we say it _____. (lifts/takes off/disembarks/launches)
  7. What are two reasons why your boarding pass is scanned just before boarding an airplane?
  8. What is a queue?
  9. What is the difference between the ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE areas as far as amenities or services are concerned? (not in the lesson; just a real-life question)
  10. Why did I set off the metal detector? (watch/belt/gold crown on my tooth/shoe)

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