ma’am, that banana could cost you $300


I woke up at the crack of dawn to head to Pierre Trudeau airport to catch at 6:30am flight back to New York City. Since apparently there was some kind of huge party in Montréal this weekend, culminating in a big event Sunday night, my waking up at 4:00am was like waking up at 4:00pm – the streets were full of people, mostly ravers. It helped that like in the U.S., Monday is a holiday, the Canadian Thanksgiving.

I’m all about public transport – you know, lessen my carbon footprint, etc., but at 4:00am I do prefer to take a taxi to the airport, which in this case only took about 20 minutes. I wondered if I was getting there a bit too early, but one can never be too early for an international flight, especially if, like me, you are often profiled for extra security checks.

As I proceeded through the security queue, laptop in a separate bin, shoes off, belt off, and the less than 3.4oz liquids in plain sight, I proceeded through the electronic security gateway. One day these will simply teleport us home, but we’re not quite there yet. As I walked through, it beeped.

Now, given that I have no metal plate in my head, no piercings and had no coins in my pocket, I couldn’t figure out exactly what was beeping. I’m pretty sure my iron levels are not above normal too.

As I approached the Canadian security representative, she stated, “you’ve been selected for a random search by the full body scanner – do you have a problem with that?” Of course – a “random” search. If I hadn’t been through “random” searches at most every airport I’ve ever been through I would believe that the word random means what they say it means. Still in all, if you have nothing to hide, no worries, right?

I entered the body scanning pod, hands on my head, as the machine did its thing. I’m glad I don’t have any embarrassing tattoos. It would be difficult to explain why I had a tattoo of the Backstreet Boys on my backside, especially since after Kevin Richardson left there was no reason to listen to them anymore. I exited the pod and exchanged some minor chit chat with the security agent while my results were processed. I was cleared to proceed.

After 15 or so minutes, I was on deck for passport scrutiny. In front of me were two agent booths, to the left a woman who was clearly having very pleasant interactions with travelers, and to the right a man who looked like he was trying to hunt down militants in Kandahar Province. As luck would have it, I was next, and the male agent was free. Target – me.

He asked me what I was doing in Montréal, and I said that I was hanging out, seeing a few sights and blogging. He asked me if I had any food items on me, which I did not, so I let him know that. He then asked me where I worked, and I told him. These answers are usually enough to get me through, but not this time. He took my passport and said “follow me.” Apparently, I had been chosen for yet another “random” check.

I was led into a large room with two border control agents, and four people sitting in chairs. My passport was given to one of the agents and I was asked to sit down. I was now glad that I had left my hotel early.

One agent said, “Barbara?” and the woman next to me jumped up and said “that’s me” and proceeded with her bag to the agent. As she put her bag on the counter and the agent began looking through it, the following conversation ensued.

Agent: Where are you headed, ma’am?

Barbara: Las Vegas.

Agent: What will you be doing there? [What a stupid question.]

Barbara: Hopefully winning a few dollars.

The agent then looked at Barbara’s customs declaration form.

Agent: Are you carrying any food – fruits or vegetables with you?

Barbara: Well, I have two bananas.

Agent: Two bananas? But you checked on your form that you are not carrying any fruits or vegetables [he holds the form up to show her].

Barbara: I was going to eat them on the plane, or before I got on.

Agent: May I remind you ma’am that a banana is a fruit. The customs declaration form clearly asks if you are carrying any fruits or vegetables. All we ask is that you are honest. The form does not say “are you going to eat the fruit you are carrying” it says “are you carrying any fruits or vegetables.” It can’t be any clearer than that. Why would you lie? [At that point Agent #2 chimed in.]

Agent #2: Yes, why would you lie about that?

Agent: Ma’am, that banana could cost you $300. That is the fine. And since you have two bananas, you are looking at a fine of $600. Do you understand what I am saying?

Barbara: Yes. I am sorry.

Agent: When we ask you to complete the customs form, we just want you to be honest. Why weren’t you honest?

Barbara: [silence.]

Agent: While normally I should fine you right here and now, I am going to let you go without a fine if you promise to be honest on your customs forms from now on. But I am going to have to take your bananas.

Barbara: I will be – I didn’t mean to cause any trouble, I was just hungry.

Agent: Fine then, you may proceed to your flight.

Barbara then left and I was next. As I sat there listening to this I wondered if I had anything on my person that could be considered or resemble a fruit [insert joke here]. I was confident that I did not.

After an uneventful but quite thorough search of my backpack, I was cleared to proceed to the flight. As I waited at the gate, I grabbed my first latte of the day at a coffee kiosk. Near the croissants there were none other than bananas for sale. $1.50 each. Expensive, but certainly not the $300 bananas that Barbara almost had to pay for.