Widgets Airport Security - A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care

Airport Security

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

The new changes to American airport safety procedures have been much in the news lately, with the news coverage even managing to pierce our internet- and TV-deprived cocoon. I had originally greeted the news that the TSA would be adopting backscatter x-rays with considerable enthusiasm, as I had participated in a trial run of one of the early devices before a Heathrow-New York flight a few years ago. As the security technician was testing the machine, he talked to me about the device, showing me my pale mannequin-like image (the machine makes you look much fatter than you are) and highlighting to me the advantages of the new technique. As I recall, the main benefit to passengers was supposed to be less time spent in security and the elimination of the need to remove jackets, belts and shoes. At the time I wondered how much of the test was about introducing passengers to the new technology, rather than actually making sure that it worked in the field.

Obviously, we've not been back to the United States nor had to endure the new procedures, but I gather from news reports that they have not been well-received, especially coupled with a pat-down alternative described as if it is just short of sexual assault. Nor have I seen proponents of the new system suggest that there is an upside for passengers in the sense of quicker or more convenient security screening. The whole arrangement differs considerably from my British experience, which was altogether pleasant.

We've taken half a dozen international flights on this trip, with almost as many domestic flights. The security arrangements have differed markedly by country, and sometimes within countries. At a few checkpoints, security made passengers take off their shoes, but this was uncommon. Buenos Aires' international terminal made us get rid of water and other liquids before going through to the gates, but this was not necessary on the domestic Puerto Madryn to Buenos Aires flight. Australia and New Zealand have been very strict about ensuring that any small liquids in your carry on are in a plastic bag, and if you don't have one, will helpfully provide one for you. [1] Meanwhile, every checkpoint has had a different procedure for what constitutes a "computer." Some screeners consider a Kindle to be a computer, and others are perfectly happy to keep it in the bag.

In my experience, security screeners respond to the differing customs of international travelers with a kind of bemused graciousness. While the occasional x-ray machine technician will let you get your boots all the way off before telling you that you can walk through a metal detector with shoes on, most will stop you before you hold up the line too badly. When faced with a passenger quietly wondering whether a water bottle needs to be binned or can be kept, they will usually swoop in with a kind explanation. I haven't encountered (knock on wood) anyone in security who has been anything less than polite, even if sometimes they were somewhat hurried.

[1] I really don't get this. If all I have is one bottle of handwash, and I show it to the inspector, what is the point of her handing me a plastic bag, me placing the handwash into the plastic bag, and her inspecting the bag-and-handwash comb? It reminds me of some old school Monkey Island -style adventure game where only the precisely correct combination of inventory items will allow you to get on to the next puzzle.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

1 Comment

It reminds me of some old school Monkey Island -style adventure game where only the precisely correct combination of inventory items will allow you to get on to the next puzzle

I loved Monkey Island. Although I guess that's beside the point. We've little clear plastic bags over here too - so evidently fashionable, even if their use is more about following a procedure than increasing security.

Leave a comment

Things We've Seen

Things We Like