Berlin, Belgrade: Two Contrasting Airport Experiences

[fr] Je déteste vraiment la sécurité dans les aéroports. C'est d'une hypocrisie primaire et le résultat principal en est une péjoration du comfort des voyageurs. Je raconte dans ce billet deux expériences contrastées (mes deux derniers vols).

L'aéroport Tegel a Berlin, où tout s'est passé comme sur des roulettes, même si j'ai eu bien peur de rater mon vol (imaginez: je me suis pointée au faux aéroport, moins de deux heures avant décollage). A Tegel, le taxi vous dépose directement au terminal. Le check-in est à 5m de la porte. Le contrôle des passeports est à côté (vraiment) du check-in (disons 3m). Le contrôle sécurité est droit derrière. Et la zone d'attente pour la porte est juste après. De check-in à salle d'attente, 10m et 5 minutes à tout casser.

A Belgrade par contre... Ce fut moins fun. Personnel peu agréable, renseignements médiocres, vilain sandwich tout sec... et pour couronner le tout, "double" sécurité. Eh oui, non seulement faut-il faire la queue pour faire passer aux rayons X toutes ses petites affaires avant le contrôle des passeports, mais encore faut-il passer par le même cirque à la port, pour accéder à la zone d'attente. Je vous passe les chaises en métal et les courants d'air...

Inutile de dire que je suis ravie de rentrer à Lausanne en train depuis Paris, et que j'espère que les grèves continueront à ne pas avoir d'influences sur les TGVs à destination de la Suisse!

Flying out of Berlin could have been a nightmare. It actually turned out to be a rather smooth experience. The nightmarish bit is that I went to the wrong airport to catch my plane. I flew in to Shönefeld (?), so naturally assumed that I would be flying out from there two.

When I arrived at the airport less than two hours before take-off, I checked the departure board and couldn’t find my flight. Suddenly, it hit me: this wasn’t the only airport in Berlin. A brief panicked enquiry at the airport information desk later, I was grabbing a taxi, calling the JAT office in Tegel Airport to explain the situation (they had my ticket waiting there for me), and deciding that 70€ to take the predictable but longer motorway route (it was peak hour and the town was gridlocked) was better than missing my flight.

My taxi driver was nice, reassuring, and cut quite a few lines to get me there on time.

Here is where it became smooth. Like most of you I guess. I’m used to airports where you need to wait in line for check-in, then walk to passport control, wait in line again, then walk to security, wait in line again, then finally, walk to the gate.

None of that nonsense at Tegel Airport. I had been given the terminal number by the person I spoke to at the JAT office, who told me my ticket would be waiting for me at check-in. My taxi dropped me off at the terminal.

I went through the door.

I walked 5 metres.

I waited 2 minutes at check-in, was greeted by a smiling hostess, given my ticket, and checked in.

The door to security — no kidding — was just next to the check-in desks. 10 steps away. And passport control was just before the door to security. And the gate itself (the waiting area) was just behind security. From check-in to the gate: less than 10 meters. Within 5 minutes I was through all of it.

And I wasn’t (by far) the last person to check in. I was early, actually.

Contrast that with my departure from Belgrade, five days later. (Oh, let me mention in passing that I had the most frightening landing of my life in Belgrade. I’m not a frightened flyer, but the weather was really very rough and stormy, with the plane rocking left and right and dropping abruptly as we were approaching the landing strip. And once on the ground, it didn’t stop either — precisely because the plane wasn’t slowing down, and was making dreadful noises. We stopped OK in the end, but from my point of view we were moving way too fast on that runway for way too long.)

Back to my experience this noon in Belgrade Airport. First, I have to say it was overall not very friendly.

I asked the check-in woman where I could change money and eat. She indicated two places for that, which meant I had to change money (lots of dinars) first and eat (paying in dinars) second. Great. Then, the change office didn’t have Swiss francs. Even greater (I now have enough euros to settle down in Paris for a month, nearly.)

I got a really nasty sandwich for a small fraction of the money I had been advised to keep for the meal, and then realised that I could change money on that floor too. They had Swiss francs, but with the amount of dinars I had it was more interesting to change in euros. Then, once I’d gotten rid of all my dinars, I noticed there was at least one other food place — nicer than the one I’d been to, of course.

Oh well.

I queued through security, did my usual Empty Half Your Bag And Get Half Undressed stunt, waited in my socks while the person at security control searched the bags of the woman before me (one person per machine, takes care of searching too, so when a bag is searched, the machine stops too — efficient, isn’t it?), and headed to passport control.

A rather unfriendly woman there gruffly asked me for my boarding pass (it had slipped out of my travel documents into my bag) and put a nasty wet stamp on it before folding it back into my passport. I had to wipe the wet ink off the (thankfully plastified) page with all my personal details.

Once in the “sterile” area, I noticed there were another two places where I could have eaten (oh, well) but no board with flight numbers and gates. I asked a member of staff who was passing by, and she pointed me to the travel information desk where I got the answer I needed.

I walked down the corridor to the gate and was quite surprised to find the place rather empty (this was about 10 minutes before announced boarding time). There was an open door with a corridor leading somewhere cold, and a closed door next to the flight details for the gate, behind which I could see a security machine and a bored young man in a uniform.

There were a few metal seats in the draughty corridor.

I tried to open the closed door, but it was — closed. I made interrogative signs to the young man, who got up to open the door and tell me that this was the right place, only later.

I therefore sat on a draughty metal seat and waited.

Slowly, more people arrived. Airline and airport employees, too. The door opened. Closed. Opened. Closed. Passengers got up and started to form a line (boarding time passed), so I got up too.

And waited in the cold. And cursed at the security machine I could see through the glass door.

You probably know I’m sick of airport security. It’s hypocritical (there mainly to cover some people’s precious arses), basically abusing poor passengers and making our lives miserable when we travel under pretense of keeping us safe from “terrorists”.

Right. So when you make everybody entering one part of the airport (what I call the “sterile area”) go through security and show ID… and you do the same thing again later on… what kind of message are you sending?

You’re basically saying: oh, well, our sterile area isn’t really sterile, you see — we don’t trust our own security screening. So please, let us screen you again. You know, just in case one of you entered this part of the airport without going through security, or managed to sneak a gun or explosives past us.

What do you think my opinion of airport security is now?

The cabin crew went through first, and for a wild moment I thought that maybe this was just for them, because for some reason they might not have had to go through the same long line of waiting for bags to be searched as us.

But I was wrong. One by one, 15 minutes after announced boarding time, we put our stuff in the X-ray machine again. Did I mention it was cold and draughty? I wasn’t happy to be in my socks again. And no, I didn’t feel bad about holding up the line because I put my stuff in four different trays to make sure I don’t raise any flags (got searched for cables in my bag, once — now they go through separate).

Colour me grumpy.

So, now that everybody had been doubly screened and that we were doubly safe, we got to sit down in more draughty metal chairs and wait. And then, stand up in line again and wait.

I am so glad I’m going back to Lausanne by train from Paris.

I just hope the strikes in France continue to not affect connections to Switzerland…

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This entry was posted in Travels and tagged airport, Anecdotes, belgrade, belgradeairport, berlin, experience, feedback, flying, jat, passenger, security, tegelairport, travelhell, Travels, TXL, Venting. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Berlin, Belgrade: Two Contrasting Airport Experiences

  1. ben says:

    Meanwhile, here in the States it’s damned near impossible for me to find an Internet connection for the cost of buying an item from the bill of fare… at least on long stretches of the West Coast. I have many choice words to share about the unholy alliance between T-Mobile and Starbucks.

    And what occasions this?

    I just got home tonight from my fourth trip out of town this year, eight segments that have taken me to five different airports (and through security at three of them).

    This morning, I was asked to put my shoes through the machine separately from the rest of my gear… and apparently, in all of this other travel, I’d not been asked previously to do so, which according to the TSA staff was an egregious violation of official policy.

    Between that and the Global War on Moisture… yeah. I heart flying anymore.

  2. vm says:

    airport security is annoying for both you and the employees.

    They deal with passengers who really would rather not be searched, xrayed, poked, prodded, wanded, and are generally aggravated by the whole process. They also know that passengers haven’t changed their expectations for how long to arrive before a flight, so they’re aggravated that they must actually bother with security.

    At the same time, you have to remember that the people hired for security are working what amounts to a menial job with a salary that gives little hope for becoming independently wealthy. So of course there are two checks, because the chance of slipping past one checkpoint is higher than slipping past two checkpoints.

    Also, this same group of annoyed passengers that all know that they as individuals are not terrorists will not tolerate a real terrorist slipping through. No one’s going to say after some terrible event takes place, “well, we did want an easier time through the airport.” It just won’t happen amidst the outrage.

    It is possible to debate whether or not there are more appropriate security measures, but some of those come down to profiling and the same annoyed passengers who normally have no principles at all suddenly grow principles and oppose this part of the debate. Same is true for armed pilots and armed air marhsals. Or the pilot having the power to kick people off his flight before takeoff for making other passengers uncomfortable. Or any number of other means that might or might not be more effective.

    Basically, the message is, keep everyone 100% safe with no inconvenience at all, and do it with people being paid a minimum salary. Three things: 100% safe, convenience, cheap. Pick two.

    Ultimately, airports are an extension of government, and people have the misguided notion that governments can protect them.

  3. Shooky says:

    I too found the experince of landing and taking off from Berlin airports pretty pleasent. I preffer Tegel (TXL) which is somewhat more homey, and it’s pretty sad that they are going to close it. Never been to Belgrad, though.

  4. Jeff D says:

    Speaking anecdotally, you could say that your experiences here quite solidly reflect the German way of doing things (extremely efficient) and the ex-Communist-bloc way of doing things though I’m sure that many of the Eastern European countries are doing their best to raise service levels.

    Fifty years of having no reason to care is a lot to overcome.

  5. Pingback: Climb to the Stars (Stephanie Booth) » November 2007 Recap

  6. Attila says:

    I just read the comments about the Belgrade Airport.I have been traveling to Belgrade since 2002 regularly. I like it and I have to say they have made great progress.Sure it still needs much work but it is 100 % better comparred to when I first started.They just renovated it and we can’t and should not travel to a foreign country and expect the same thing as at home.Different Country Differrent Mentality.Belgrade is the Capital of the Balkans after all…this is where East and West Collide,the people there are much more laid back we could use a little of that.

  7. AB says:

    You had to take your shoes off?
    They don't make you do that at Belgrade Airport.
    You pass through first security, than passport control, security two (sterile area :P ). That is that.
    Before you enter the plane, usually two employees look at your passport to see if you have the visa (if it's needed), and check your boarding pass.

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