Airport Security? Cods!

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.

Saving Money Travelling

Thomo’s touring at the moment. Currently I am in Bangkok getting three months supply of pork and beer in (Oktoberfest seems a perfect time to do that of course).

Whilst here I booked a couple of day tours. Heading to the tour desk at the hotel we organised a trip to the floating market and the Rose Garden. Later, we were walking along and stepped into a travel agent to inquire about a trip to the tiger temple and the River Kwai. It was there that we noticed that the prices for the tours were between 30% and 60% cheaper than they were at the tour desk in the hotel – and the tours were all with the same companies.

Doh! You would think that after all these years of travelling I would have remembered this – hotel = expensive, outside of hotel = not-so-expensive! 😦

Royal Thai Air Force Museum

Boripatra of the Royal Thai Airforce After much mucking around over the past year or so, I finally have the Royal Thai Air Force Museum photos back on line in a gallery and accessible to those that can’t get to Thailand to have a look for themselves.

This is one of the best Aircraft Museums I have visited around the world and this one is important for a couple of rare displays they have, such as the Boripatra, the Curtiss 75N and Curtiss Hawk 3, amongst others.

In any case, it is now available online again with pictures of about half the exhibits at the museum. I should note that the last time I was there, the entry to the museum was still free.

Songkran 2007 – สงกรานต

It was the 13th of April for 4 days. Songkran is Thai New Year and I was lucky to be here this time. In the past I have managed to pass through Thailand a few days before but never had the chance to stay here for it.

Songkran (สงกรานต) is the New Year in the Thai Buddhist Calendar. This Songkran marked the change from the year 2449 to 2550. The Thai solar calendar, Suriyakati (Thai: สุริยคติ) is based around the Buddhist Era and traditionally New Year is that period 13 to 16 April. However, in 1941 the then Thai Prime Minister aligned the Western and Thai New Years so that from 1941 onwards, adding 543 to the Western year will indicate the Thai Year. Prior to 1941, the Thai year number changed each Songkran. Now, the year number changes on 1 January with the western year change, but the Thai’s still celebrate Songkran at the traditional time.

It was terrific. So much celebration, happiness and fun. The greatest part of the day consists of being drenched in water and having powder patted onto your wet face and head, no matter where you go. If you are here for Songkran, just assume that when you go outside over those four days that you will be drenched in water. Leave mobile phones and cameras in your room or wrap them securely in plastic (or put them in a water-proof housing).

I really can say that I had such a fun time over Songkran. There was not an unhappy face I saw anywhere.

I’ll add a picture to this entry later when I get hold of them – it is of yours truly after arriving back in the hotel from the day out at Songkran.

Happy New Year to My Kazakh Friends

I forgot – over a week ago it was New Year for the Kazakh folks that live in the west of Mongolia (and, I guess, in Uigur A.R. in China and in Kazakhstan). The New Year holiday in the west of Mongolia is known as Nauriz Kozhe (I think) and it occurs in March each year. It is, according to some, an Islamic Holiday (how come I missed it sitting here in Saudi Arabia?) and it marks the changing of the year. Nauriz is, however, the Persian word for New Year so maybe that is why I have not run across it in the Middle East.

So, Happy New Year guys … and the next one coming up is the Thai New Year, Songkran, which occurs around 14 to 17 April in Thailand. More about that later.

Now, if Asel or Ascar is reading this, please, drop me a line and let me know what happens in Kazakhstan around this time. I was in Kazakhstan in March 2005 but I do not recall this holiday. Maybe I left just before it happens.

Kazakhstan has apparently been celebrating Nauryz Holiday falling on 22 March since gaining its independence. The holiday is a celebration of the return of Spring.

Now I wonder if anyone managed to lift the Ox this year?

Talking about Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo

For those of you who were interested, the bags did not turn up to the Hotel. At 9:00 pm, after a Pizza from Ronnie’s New York Pizza in Sukhumvit Soi 4, I went to the airport. My bag had still not been seen.

At the airport I asked a Thai Airways type person where Thai Airways handled lost baggage. She said “G Floor”. I went to the lift and checked – there was no “G” Floor. So I found another Thai Airways person and asked them. They said “on the arrivals floor under G Section here”. I went there.

I located the Lost Baggage office and stormed in, really, annoyed by now about my baggage. I let the staff there have it with a full description of how long I had been without my baggage and finishing with a comment about how unhappy I was.

The Thai Staff in that office said “er, we are domestic lost baggage – you need to talk to International”.

“Where is that?” I asked.

“In the secure area” they noted.

At this point they told me to wait and then they telephoned the International Lost Baggage Office. A guy from that office met me and accompanied me into the secure area. We spent a happy 45 minutes searching through hundreds of lost bags until someone said “flight from Sydney?” Upon answering yes, he took us to the back corner of this office and lifted a bag down from the shelves … my bag.

So, about 10 pm on the night I was flying out I was reunited finally with my bag. I had flown Bangkok to Sydney (then driven to Canberra and back) then returned to Bangkok.

My bag had travelled Bangkok to Frankfurt to Vienna to Kuala Lumpur to Sydney and then on to Bangkok.

Pity I could not get the frequent flyer miles for my bag.

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Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo
Sunday night, Bangkok, nice new airport called Suvarnabhumi (still haven’t got my tongue around that one yet) and Thai Airlines (who had recently moved their head of Baggage Services to a desk with no responsibility). Thomo was flying from Bangkok to Sydney on the flight that left 18:15 from the airport. Thomo arrived in Sydney Monday morning but his bags did now.

 

So, finally, an email from the Bag Lady in Sydney to tell me that my bag will be arriving Sydney soon and she will instruct for it to go on the flight to Bangkok tonight means I may have my bag tomorrow – before I fly out again.

Thomo …. Not a happy passenger!

Thomo’s Baggage Flies Further Than Thomo

Sunday night, Bangkok, nice new airport called Suvarnabhumi (still haven’t got my tongue around that one yet) and Thai Airlines (who had recently moved their head of Baggage Services to a desk with no responsibility). Thomo was flying from Bangkok to Sydney on the flight that left 18:15 from the airport. Thomo arrived in Sydney Monday morning but his bags did not.

Filled in the report with the ground staff. This is not Thai staff but is outsourced to the Menzies Company in Australia – they also handle Emirates baggage, amongst others – more on that later. I then picked up the hire car and drove to Canberra after being promised that I would be contacted later that day with news of my bag.

Got up Tuesday morning and as I had not heard from Thai Airlines, I telephoned the contact numbers given me. The Thai staff member who looks after this was on sick leave so I called Menzies. After much enquiring they noted that they believed my bag had been located in Frankfurt and could I tell them what brand it was.

“Polo, I think” said Thomo.

“Yes, we believe that the bag is Polo” said the Menzies staff. We will have the bag sent to Sydney.

“OK” says Thomo, but please remember I am in Canberra so telephone me about delivery. Also note that I am likely to fly out of the country again tomorrow afternoon or Thursday.

“Oh, OK. It will take 30 hours for the bag to get back from Frankfurt” says the ever helpful Menzies.

“But that means it will arrive in Australia after I have left” says Thomo.

“Well, we will have it come anyway” says Menzies.

At this point I went out to do the business I had come to Canberra for. Later that day, I called Thai again and spoke to the Sales Supervisor who was on holidays. She was sympathetic and helpful and promised to do what she could. Later that day I confirmed my flight out on Wednesday.

Wednesday (er, yesterday as it seems), I checked in at Sydney Airport with my Woolworth’s Shopping bag, laptop and camera, and spoke to the Thai Ground Staff at the airport (not the Menzies staff). They checked my bag and said “yes, we have found it, it is currently in Vienna and is due to go on a flight to Sydney via Kuala Lumpur”.

To be fair to Thai, she did notice, at this point, that I was not going to be in Australia and so she said she would try and have “the bag pulled from the bin in Kuala Lumpur”. I asked her for a contact number for baggage lost and found in Bangkok, Thai’s home port, but she did not have that so she gave me the general reservation number instead.

I arrived in Bangkok.

Thursday morning I got up, had breakfast. I received a phone call from the Thai Bag Lady in Sydney (who has been most helpful) and she gave me the number for the baggage lost and found at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Unfortunately I copied the number down wrongly and so I rang the Thai reservations number in Bangkok. The nice person there, simply identified as agent 3176 (yes, that was what the telephone system identified her as), gave me the number of the baggage lost and found at the new airport.

I telephoned that number but no one there spoke English. They did give me another telephone number which was never answered. I checked the Thai Airways website and they have a press release there called “THAI Sets Up Call Center on Lost Baggage” which notes that “Passengers who have not yet received their baggage may contact THAI’s Baggage Service Department at Tel. 0 2130-0057-58, 0 2130-0060, 24-hours a day.” Of course, no one speaks English there. The web address so you can check is http://www.thaiairways.com/About_Thai/Newsroom/Press_Release/Press_Year_2006/press0906_274.htm

So, finally, an email from the Bag Lady in Sydney to tell me that my bag will be arriving Sydney soon and she will instruct for it to go on the flight to Bangkok tonight means I may have my bag tomorrow – before I fly out again.

Thomo …. Not a happy passenger!

On the Road

Currently Thomo is sitting in Bangkok. Tomorrow, it is on to a flight and off into Mongolia for six months. Thomo has taken up a role with the Khan Bank in Mongolia and will sit in Ulaan Baatar for the next six months. The money was the overriding concern here – the fact that Thomo actually needed money from anywhere.

Look for the reports from Mongolia soon.