I flew yesterday, after more stringent security measures were applied in response to the plot to detonate explosive devices aboard ten transatlantic flights bound for the US from Heathrow. I flew from Kelowna to Cranbrook via Vancouver, not exactly hubs of terrorist activity.

Nevertheless, I had to check my overnight bag, containing shaving cream, toothpaste, hair gel, and other potentially compromising materials. I also didn't dare venture outside the security checkpoints in Vancouver to avoid having to line-up again. However, I was allowed to carry through my cell phone, iPod, laptop, books, pens, and key fob. I couldn't if I was flying from Heathrow.

British passengers were advised the following:
"Passengers may take through the airport security search point, in a single (ideally transparent) plastic carrier bag, only the following items. Nothing may be carried in pockets:
• Pocket-size wallets and pocket-size purses plus contents (for example money, credit cards, identity cards etc (not handbags)
• Travel documents essential for the journey (for example passports and travel tickets)
• Prescription medicines and medical items sufficient and essential for the flight (eg, diabetic kit), except in liquid form unless verified as authentic
• Spectacles and sunglasses, without cases
• Contact lens holders, without bottles of solution
• For those travelling with an infant: baby food, milk (the contents of each bottle must be tasted by the accompanying passenger) and sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight (nappies, wipes, creams and nappy disposal bags)
• Female sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight, if unboxed (eg tampons, pads, towels and wipes)
• Tissues (unboxed) and/or handkerchiefs
• Keys (but no electrical key fobs).
All passengers must be hand searched, and their footwear and all the items they are carrying must be X-ray screened. "

At least you don't have to taste the female sanitary items. Just the breast milk.

The main problem for experienced travellers is the noobs who gum the whole procedure up. It may take me less than 45 seconds to pass through the security checkpoint, because I know which shoes and belt to avoid; to take off all my metal anything including watch, pager, pens, foil wrapped gum; to have my boarding pass ready for presentation, my passport close at hand; to remove all banned items from my carry-on in advance; to remove my laptop from the bag; etc.

But the noob traveller does not do any of these things. And the rest of us have to stand around while he walks through the detector wearing his jacket, then he withdraws, takes it off, puts it on the conveyor and walks through again. *beeeeep* Oh, I've got these steel-toed boots on. *beeeeep* I'm supposed to put my keys on the thing? Whoops. *beeeeep* Then the wanding. Open the belt, close it up. Turn around. Now on to the bags. "Sir, is this your bag? You're going to have to remove the scissors, the nail file, and the pocket knife. You'll also need to remove the lighter, contact lens cleaner, after shave, conditioner, shampoo, pomade, hair gel, and mousse. If you like, sir, you can return to your airline gate to check these items in your bag. Otherwise they'll have to be confiscated. Please don't use that language with me, Sir. These regulations are intended for your safety."

How safe does this make us, anyway? I have no doubt that these regulations have prevented many more incidents from occurring. Security works. Nobody's hijacked an El Al airplane in over 35 years.

I think what needs to happen, though, is a way to accommodate air travellers better. If I can't bring food and drink through security, the airlines or airport better provide it and in copious amounts. If I can't bring my toiletries on board and the airlines lose my checked luggage, they should provide a his or hers two-day toiletries supply. I shouldn't have to spend the first few hours at my destination shopping for them. And give us good stuff to read on board. And video and audio on demand. And a way to do work on board. In short, they should replace all the amenities we passengers ourselves are prevented from providing.

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Anonymous said...

On Wed. Aug 9th Wayne and I flew from Dubrovnik to London Gatwick. My friends from Amsterdam flew to meet us and spend the evening in London. On Thursday. Aug.10th, Wayne interrupted my shower after watching the early morning news on the BBC and suggested that "we should skip breakfast and get to our asses to Gatwick". We did. We arrived just past 7am for a 10:30am flight. We joined the throng of people headed into the tunnel that takes you to the check-in hall. After about 20 minutes in this line up, Wayne (who is 6'4") looked back over my head and announced "I think they've sealed off the terminal". He was right. A security guard informed us that the terminal was now closed. We spent 2.5 hours in that tunnel and then emerged into the check-in hall only to line up again to check-in for our flight. After being handed clear, plastic carrier bags, we packed all our hand luggage into our suitcases and headed for the departure lounge with only our passports, wallets, travel itinerary and my Gravol (thank goodness for that!). Despite airline warnings of 5+ hour delays, our flight took off a mere 3.5 hours late. One of the few to take off from Gatwick that morning. My friend from Amsterdam, Rachael, and her husband and son were stranded in London (where, thankfully, she has family) until Sunday when their carrier resumed a regular schedule. We did indeed witness mothers tasting formula and baby food at security. Spoke with a woman whose husband had dropped her and their 4 kids off at the terminal and had left to park the car and was now stranded inside the closed terminal while her husband was outside. Sat in front of a family of four on a 9 hour flight with no carry-on luggage and therefore no kids toys or books. On arrival in Calgary, we disembarked and walked past the departure lounge to the stares of the passengers waiting to depart. "What are they staring at?" Wayne asked aloud. "A plane load of people carrying nothing but clear, plastic bags." I responded. "We are a strange spectacle."


Anonymous said...

oh no, am I a noob? (blush) I do quite well with the carry-on restrictions, but I am never sure which shoes have that metal spine in them. I mean, they're women's shoes. It's not like they're steel toes or something. (sigh).

Of course, presumably they will still allow us BOOKS.