Airport Security [en]

[fr] Je déteste les procédures de sécurité dans les aéroports. Devoir enlever ses chaussures systématiquement, déjà, en signe d'humilité et de respect devant la "sécurité de la nation" (les responsables qui se couvrent en cas d'incident, plutôt), et maintenant, être en mesure de prouver durant 15 secondes que l'on ne prend à bord "qu'un seul sac". Encore un traumatisme de voyage pour moi, super.

I officially hate going through airport security.

It’s bad enough to have to submit to random searches, and go through metal detectors which will beep regularly depending on what jewellery or shoes you’re wearing. Actually, the shoes issue is solved now in many airports by demanding that passengers remove their shoes and walk through the detectors in socks or barefoot.

I personally find this rather degrading. Think of it. As far as I know, removing one’s shoes is a sign of submission, respect or humility before a figure of power, most of the time in some way religious or spiritual. Think temples, kings, and washing others’ feet.

So now, we are forced to walk “barefooted” through the holy ground of airport security, and submit to procedures which, if you think of it honestly, are probably there more to ensure that certain arses are covered in case of a security incident. When metal detectors beep and bags are searched day after day, and all these are “false alarms”, surely the efficiency of the security screening process suffers. Imagine an anti-virus program which generates many false alerts everyday — inevitably, you’re going to pay less attention to them.

Anyway. I’d more or less started to get used to removing my laptop from my bag, sealing my liquids in a transparent bag, taking off shoes and bracelet and patiently let people wave metal rods around me or open my bags.

I’m about to climb on my 11th plane since the end of September (lots of bad connections, I’ll admit, but still — I’ve been through security a bit). Here in London Heathrow, I have just discovered yet another feature of the security screening process: “one bag only”. As far as I can remember, cabin luggage has always been “one bag only”, and it meant that women could still carry their handbag in addition to that. Unfair, yeah, poor guys, but that’s how it was. And indeed, I’ve never had a problem with that before today.

So, freshly off my totally uneventful British Airways flight from San Francisco to Heathrow (thanks partly to melatonin-induced slumber), I was following the connecting flights signs when I was stopped by a first security barrier. As an aside, it always kind of amazes me that you have to go through security multiple times when you have connecting flights. I assume this means that airports do not trust security staff in other countries to conduct security screening properly.

Anyway, this was “one bag only” pre-screening. I had my new Hello Kitty laptop bag, crammed with stuff like clothes to sleep in on the plane (really worth it), and my (equally new and Hello Kitty) handbag with the usual random stuff I carry with me everywhere (including laptop, camera, sunglasses, notebook, purse, phone, etc… — I put all the cables in my check-in luggage, for those who were thinking about asking). The security guy stopped me, and rather harshly told me that it was one bag only, to which I pointed out that one of them was my handbag. The line was repeated, with a little extra information: “One bag only, so unless you can make them into one bag, you can’t come through.”

Great. I couldn’t make them into one bag, I told — and showed — him. “Then you have to go through passport control, find your airline, go through check-in.”

That sounded weird. My first thought was that this was some kind of express security passage, but I had a sneaking doubt the idea behind that option was to make me check in one of my bags. I queued at passport control, on the verge of tears (I’m starting to realise travelling is a perfectly dreadful and stressful experience, and really need to find a way to not end up in tears each time I travel at the point where obstacles start showing up.)

I told the immigration guy I wasn’t really sure why I had been sent this way and what I should do, and he told me that indeed, if I went out this way it would be to check one of my bags in. When I told him I couldn’t (neither of my bags were fit for it), he basically said it wasn’t his problem, that he could show me where to go to check one of my bags in, that he refused to argue with me, and that I could go back to argue with the security guys instead. Well, guess what, that was just what I needed to hear to take from fighting tears to giving in to them. I tried to tell him I didn’t want to argue, I just wanted to know who I could talk to. He stuck to his script, and told me to go and argue with security again.

I was stuck, and what I needed just there was somebody I could talk with to try to figure out a solution, and who wouldn’t just spew out script lines at me. Immigration on the left, security on the right, and they had both proved equally unfriendly and drone-like in that respect.

Back to security anyway, I picked another guy than the one I had dealt with to start with, and was lucky (or maybe I was just crying enough by that time). Anyway, this one was nice, stepped out of the line, listened to me, took matters into his own hands by throwing out my empty water bottles, removing my laptop from the bag (I could carry it by hand), and squashing my poor handbag into my bigger Hello Kitty bag, which almost needed to be sat on to be shut. Great, I had one bag.

I thanked him, walked straight through that first bit of pre-security without anybody even looking at me, got into the longer line for the proper security screening, and promptly separated my too bags again — I was afraid my laptop bag would explode and my more delicate stuff would be crushed.

Nobody asked me to “make them into one bag” to screen them. Basically, I went through all that to prove during 15 seconds that my two bags could pass for one.

I just feel totally disgusted by all this. Next time I’ll carry a strap so I can strap my two bags together to “make one bag” instead of squashing them.