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6:35pm on Sunday, 9th October, 2005:

Levels of Security


Different airports have different levels of security. The worst I ever had was being stopped and searched 6 times on a flight from Jordan (including a metal-detector check at the entrance to the passenger cabin).

There are basically four levels:

  1. Professional. You put your stuff and anything metal into the X-ray machine and walk through a metal-detector.
  2. Suspect. They make you take your laptop out of your briefcase because their equipment isn't good enough to scan it otherwise.
  3. Sweet. They do the briefcase thing and make you take off your shoes in the naive belief this enhances security.
  4. Paranoid. As with Jordan. They'd search your lungs if they could.

New York's La Guardia airport, where I'm typing this email [aside: why does the old man sitting opposite wink at me every time I look up?], the level seems to be 3. The security staff are so inured to it, though, that they just assume it works and follow the process rather than what the process is supposed to be processing.

Example: I was told to take off my shoes. I bent down, undid my laces, then walked through the metal-detectors still wearing them. I was asked to show my boarding pass, told them it was in my jacket pocket (being X-rayed) and was instructed to show it to the officer at the other side. I didn't. The security officers failed to notice, they just assumed I'd done as I was told. Judging by the alertness of the man looking at the X-ray pictures I could probaby have left my computer in my briefcase, too: he was yawning, chatting to other guards, and when he did look at his screen it was just a glance. At Gatwick, I get the impression that they don't call me out to explain the timing device in my briefcase because they can tell it's just an alarm clock; at La Guardia, I get the impression it's because they don't notice it's anything that could be used as part of a bomb.


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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).