I inhaled the distinctive airport smells of coffee and jet fuel upon entering JFK’s bustling terminal, taking in the fast pace of travelers and stressed faces of employees around me. My nerves built in anticipation of my journey—I was traveling alone to India for the wedding of one of my closest cousins. This would be my first flight without the safety blanket of my parents.
I felt unprepared for airport security as an unaccompanied minor. My hand nervously trembled, double-checking for my Indian passport, American Green Card and boarding pass. The TSA line slowly inched forward until it was finally my turn. I carefully placed my suitcase on the conveyor belt and began combing through my bag, taking out my laptop, AirPods and charger to place in separate bins. I emptied my pockets, removed my shoes and sweater and steeled myself for security screening. Paranoia flooded my senses as I mentally scrambled through the list of prohibited items, but to tremendous relief, none of my bags were flagged. I re-checked my documents before navigating to my gate.
Since I was alone, I boarded early, settling into my window seat. I was grateful for the direct, albeit expensive, flight my dad booked—a connection would’ve added unnecessary complexity to the already stressful process. As my Air India flight lifted off, I watched New York’s skyline fade into the distance, along with my nerves, leaving only excitement.
My dad advised sleeping during the first six hours to adjust to Indian time. At takeoff, it was nearly 11 PM in Mumbai but noon in New York. Exhaustion from nerves and school easily allowed for five hours of sleep. I spent the remaining eight hours watching “Friends” and reading. In the final hour, I gathered my things, triple-checking my passport, green card and boarding pass. Peering out my window, I took a deep breath, preparing for the trip’s end.
As I exited the plane, I picked up my pace. 342 passengers were aboard my plane, and almost all were headed to the same destination: Immigration. With no intention of enduring the agonizing pain of waiting in line for over an hour, my swift feet practically ran over the airport carpet as I tugged my suitcase across until I reached immigration. To my delight, there were only three people in line before me. After 15 nervous minutes, it was my turn. I walked up to the immigration officer, the sound of my suitcase’s wheels loud in stark contrast to the atmosphere.
“Passport and boarding pass,” the officer said.
I complied, answering her questions regarding the reason for my visit. Hearing her stamp my passport, I continued to baggage claim, relieved. My first bag quickly arrived, but the second took 15 additional minutes. Happiness washed over me as I made my way to the exit where family awaited, prior nerves and stress completely forgotten as I looked forward to what the journey would bring.