I’ve been travelling. I left Saudi Arabia on Sunday night and flew to Dubai, Bangkok, Sydney, then back to Bangkok and now I am sitting in Dubai prior to flying back to Saudi Arabia. So, that is five days, two airlines and four airports, twice over. The flights were Emirates (VERY nice airline) from Saudi Arabia to Dubai to Bangkok (and back) and British Airways (VERY old airline) from Bangkok to Sydney and back.
So, what’s the beef with security I hear you say? Simply that is is not consistent and, to be honest, in the many places you would expect it to be good, its not. Lets take a simple example – the personal body screening/search.
Walk into Jeddah International Airport and you have to have all your bags X-rayed, including carry-on bags. Then you can check in. After check in, then you get to have your carry-on bags X-rayed again and you get a personal screening as well (“please empty your pockets and walk through here”). I passed whilst wearing my shoes and my belt. First and most obvious thing, as the Middle East is a hotbed of terrorism (if we are to believe the politicians in the UK, US and Australia) why not do the body search when the person is entering the airport and save the extra search? Anyway, I’m not on the O&M committee at the airport so we’ll leave that.
Fly to Dubai – the instruments served with the meal are all metal – knife, fork and spoon. Arrive Dubai and go through another search (shoes and belt on, pockets empty – passed). Catch flight to Bangkok. Metal implements for eating with are again supplied. Arrive Bangkok and inside the airport I buy a toothbrush and toothpaste pack – the pack is in a clear plastic bag but it is a different bag to the one that airport security wants so the toothpaste has to be taken out of one plastic bag and put into another plastic bag. All items X-Rayed again (but this time laptop must be taken from its bag and X-Rayed separately). Shoes and belt left on and passed screening.
Head to the gate to board the flight. There is another security search there where the staff, equipped with latex gloves, check everything that is in the bag again. Hel-lo – it’s all just been X-Rayed and searched just 50 metres away. I must be honest here too – to a Thai security type person I am not a threatening character – goofy grin and more fulsome figure plus big hairy ears means the Thai security folks see me as a gentle person so the extra check is the security person saying “laptop in the bag?” and then letting me go without really looking at anything. Anyway, it is a requirement for flights into Australia because, basically, the Australian government does not believe that security officials can do a security check using technology, so must have more of the same officials doing the check again without technology. Anyone see anything stupid here?
Board the flight and have plastic utensils styled in a tasteful imitation silver colour supplied for the in-flight meals. Understand that it is hard plastic and if snapped is more dangerous than a metal bread and butter knife. Oh well on to Sydney.
OK – bummed around in Oz for two days getting a visa approved (no security check at the Saudi Embassy in Canberra – but no visitors for the last six days either). Head back to the airport to fly back and get to the security check. Send laptop through separately, belt and shoes left on and pass screening. Walk past a security gentleman who asks “excuse me sir we are performing random tests on passengers, would you mind coming here for some checking please?”
You answer “yes I mind because it is not random – I’ve been selected before and I watched you stand there and let about 30 other people go past”. In any case, it seems that when you answer a question honestly the security guys get all uppity and hurt and seem disappointed when they can’t find anything. Surely the sniffing for explosives could be done as the bags are being X-rayed – then everything would be checked – not just the bags of us rotund Middle Eastern looking gentlemen!
Anyway, I don’t have a choice so I stand there whilst he checks to see if my bag has been in contact with explosives. It hasn’t so I am allowed to pass.
Arrive in Bangkok after using the nice grey plastic knives and forks. Head off to the Emirates flight and after a single search (laptop out of bag, shoes and belt on) I board the aircraft. Metal utensils for the meal. Arrive in Dubai where the security check there this time is “shoes and belts off please”. So, laptop, still in bag, is X-rayed along with my shoes and belt – everything passes the check.
Now, the only other security check I have to go through is the compulsory X-Ray of everything by the customs guys in Jeddah looking to see if you are smuggling pornography because these guys have not heard of technology, the Internet or peer-to-peer file swapping. They seem to think that pornography smugglers are going to be so stupid as to have a DVD in their bag with the title “Debbie Does Dallas – Master Copy” written on the outside of it. They will examine the DVD’s attached to the cover of the PC User and APC magazines I have been reading on the flight, however, and will interrogate me about their content before letting me go through with them.
So, what does all this tell me? Basically no one really has any idea about airport security. I should add that in Bangkok I watched as the staff servicing the aircraft went through very thorough checking. There are about 20 or so cleaners for a 747-400. Before they enter the aircraft they are frisked by security officers and when they exit with their plastic bags full of garbage, they are frisked again. The security officers then go through and check every bag of rubbish to make sure things have not been hidden there. This does not happen in Sydney.
So, where is the best airport security? Without a doubt, I think the Bangkok security is better than either Middle East or Sydney – if for no other reason that they have thought it through and that I can be checked without getting half undressed. In Sydney there is only that one check – although arrogantly the Australian authorities (or is it Qantas and British Airways?) require a second meaningless check on passengers boarding flights from overseas with an arrival destination of an Australian city.
I am all for security at airports and on aircraft – I would just like to see some consistency and some efficiency.