Tianfan Chen ’16 Staff Writer
Thanksgiving break in England was a perfect week for me; this was until I began my journey back to Merrimack from Heathrow Airport in London. I had a great week in the UK because I love British culture and London is one of my favorite cities. In London, I bought a lot of paintings, souvenirs, creative little technology gadgets. I visited Scotland as well and felt the spirit of nature. I have been to London a few times in the past and my travels have always gone smoothly, I had never run into any trouble except for this time.
After a week of travelling around the UK, I was exhausted, my flight was at 9:30 A.M. After I landed, I needed to go straight to class after I got to America. I didn’t sleep the night before and was hoping that I would be able to get some rest on the plane. I repacked my luggage and put all my clothing in the big suitcase and all the souvenirs and antiques I bought in my carry on bag. After getting my luggage checked and waving goodbye to my friends in England, I went to the security checkpoint with my backpack and my carry on bag; here is where the nightmare began.
I bought a set of fake passports and currency which had countries like: France, Italy, America, England and China at Portobello Market, which is my favorite spot in London. I bought all kinds of artwork including paintings, little antiques and of course the set of fake passports. These passports and money are visibly very fake, and you can tell by just looking at it once. The head shot on the fake money can be made to hold anyones picture. In this case, I designed it to contain pictures of some of my good friends. I was going to give it to my friends as a gag gift for Christmas. Unfortunately, the fake passports got me into huge trouble when I tried to get through the airport security check point.
I had also bought a metal speaker with my souvenirs in my bag and it triggered the metal detector, this was what drew the customs officials to open my bag and check it. I responded with confident smile and said, “No problem.” I wasn’t doing anything wrong, nor did I have anything that was illegal in my bag. The officials smiled back until he opened my bag and saw the fake passports. The official dropped his smile and called one of his colleagues over to check with him. I start to feel like something was wrong and I tried to explain to them that the passports are all fake and I bought them from Portobello Market. They just simply said: “OK, just wait here.” Soon, 3 more security guards came and checked the passports and they checked it carefully.
I could tell from their facial expressions that something was wrong. They even used the UV lamps to check out my souvenirs. A few minutes later a security guard approached me, I thought that he was going to just give me back the fake passports and let me go. I was wrong–he told me that this is a serious issue and they have alerted the police, and the police are on their way here.
I was shocked and start to explain to them again where the passports came from. They said yet again: “OK wait here.” The police arrived fairly quickly and they were not helping at all. They asked the same questions as the security guards asked me and I gave them the same answers. After that the police and the security guards discussed for a while and gave me a brief run down on what they were going to do.
It was very difficult for me to understand the officer’s British accent, I could only decipher some serious words like “felony,” “they can’t deal with it”, and “some federal agents.” I started to worry about the situation, and thought it could possibly be a ridiculous joke. However, I remained calm the whole time since I know that I didn’t do anything wrong. The only thing I cared about was missing my flight, I shared my concern with a security guard and he told me that it would be impossible for me to catch the flight. They took me to a single room, about half hour later, a man came in with a white shirt, sunglasses and a briefcase. He asked the same questions that I had been answering by other people. I heard the word “serious” again, “forging government documents”, “laws”, “prison.” The situation made me frustrated. While he was talking, the luggage I checked in earlier was brought in by another agent. They started to look inside my luggage it but they failed to find anything but clothing.
Then these two agents began to interrogate me for about 20 minutes. Every bit of detailed information I gave was written down by the two agents’ notes in their notebooks including: where I am from, why I came to the UK, why I’m going back to the US, my parents’ names, etc. I had nothing to hide and I just answered the questions quickly and fluently. During the whole time the agents were taking notes and observing me cautiously. After the integration, they went out for another 10 minutes and came back and once again talked to me with their heavy British accents but I was able to catch the most important statement: “you are free to go!”
They have confiscated the passports and the money of course and I tried to argue with them by saying, “these passports cannot be more fake.” They said it was procedure and they had to do it. They also told me that this was the most special situation that they have ever encountered. I was free to go but I had to miss my flight. I contacted Delta Airlines and they offered me a late night ticket on Tuesday and finally I got home safely back to America. It was a long drawn out process that could have easily been avoided had they believed me at the gate.