Saturday, February 12, 2005

Never travel on a one way ticket

I flew to Dallas last Monday on a one way ticket mainly because I had no idea when I'd be returning. I flew back the other way tonight, again on a one way ticket. I was flying Southwest Airlines which takes two hops to get to Dallas (see here[^] for why) coming back on the same airline. So that's at least two passes through security, four if you're a smoker. I'm a smoker so it was four. On each pass through security I was sent off to secondary inspection.

By the third pass through secondary inspection it was getting to be a bit of a repeat performance. They sit you down and explain that they're going to pass the wand over your entire body and do an upper torso pat down. If the wand beeps then they'll do a pat down of that part of the body they were wanding at the time. (The devil in me wants to put some aluminium foil in my jocks to see how they'd cope with it; the practical side of me screams NO!!!! ).

I thought it was done very professionaly. No nonsense (and never ever give those guys nonsense!).

The first time I flew after September 11th was on Christmas Day 2001. That was three days after Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. On that occasion I flew from Australia to the US. I was up at about 6 that morning and went for a long walk to kill time. Along the way I collected a copy of The Melbourne Age. And there, on the front page, was a warning to international travellers to allow 3 hours to pass security if you were going to the US. I can take warnings so I turned up earlier than I would otherwise have. Good decision.

First my bags had to pass a much stricter inspection than before. I remember the guy specifically asking if there were sharp objects in my bag - he was going to stick his hand in and feel everything in the bag and he hoped he wouldn't be impaled. Then, after check-in I had to pass through a second level of security specific to the US. This involved swabbing my shoes and doing a chemical analysis of the results. Ok. It seems perhaps a trifle silly to subject the entire world to a shoe inspection on the basis of one idiot but on the other hand...

But what really got to me was the attitude of the security guy. Perhaps I'm being churlish but I don't think it's necessary for security to apologise for doing their job. As I said at the time (and repeated tonight) I don't mind all this extra stuff. The intent is that I get to my destination in one piece. If I fit the profile they're using then fine; I know I'll pass inspection. Yes, it's a pain in the bum to go through secondary inspection but if that's the price of safe travel...

But they sometimes take it too far. In Sydney they confiscated a cigarette lighter because I had two on me - I'm allowed one. Same thing in Manila. I still travel with two - the first is in my pocket - the second in my carry on luggage - they never find the second one. If my shoes have passed inspection then what possible danger could I pose with two lighters that I don't pose with just the one?

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