Fight or Flight – Adventures with Airport Security and Airlines

When I worked at Brisbane Domestic Airport, each morning a group of us would troop through security to get to the good coffee shop upstairs. I soon learned which hair clips, shoes and even bras set off the metal detectors. Even as a regular, carrying no baggage and wearing an Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) I was once stopped by an overzealous security staff member for the explosives test. I pointed out that choosing one of the travellers who were streaming past made more sense, but he would not be deterred. Pre-coffee, this really irritated me and I flounced off in a huff as soon as I was inevitably found clear of explosives and took a good half hour to calm down.

This daily inconvenience taught me that the best way to deal with airport security (and all the other frustrations of travel) is to remain calm. Easier said than done, but far better than having a meltdown and ending up on a blacklist. Increase your chances of staying calm by planning ahead. Arrive early at the airport to allow plenty of time for check-in, security and immigration. Avoid queues by checking in online or at the self-check-in machines at the airport. When possible take carry-on bags only, ensuring they comply with the volume and weight requirements and don’t contain anything that is not allowed on board. This also ensures your bag gets on the same flight you do and saves waiting for luggage on arrival.

Security procedures however are completely out of your control, and due to the inconsistencies between airports, and changes to procedures it’s hard to know what to expect. Metal tweezers, nail files and nail clippers were banned, but are currently allowed. Nail scissors are still banned. Travelling through Brisbane International Airport just after the full body scanners were installed I was handed a flyer informing me that I could ask not to go through the full body scanner, but this could cause me to miss my flight, not much of a choice really. On my latest trip through Brisbane the full body scanners were not in use but umbrellas were their new concern. Passengers had to remove them from bags and unfurl them before being allowed through. At Hong Kong Airport, passengers on flights to Australia or America must pass through an additional liquids and gels check at the gate, where bottles of water and other liquids purchased in the screened area are confiscated, much to the frustration of passengers.

Full Body Scanner. Image courtesy of Michael Sauers @ Flickr

However it was London Gatwick security that I found the most trying. They insisted that not only belts and heavy coats but also lighter layers and shoes were removed before passing through the metal detectors. Not only laptops but also ipads had to unpacked from bags. Strict compliance with the liquid and gel rules I can understand, but Gatwick did secondary testing of liquids and gels, which required a generous blob of one of your liquids and gels (always an expensive face cream and never shampoo, conditioner or toothpaste) to be taken away for testing, requiring you to wait until inevitably cleared for the final check, where you had to send your shoes through a separate scanner. You then had a 5-15 minute walk to your gate.

Gatwick Airport. Image courtesy of Adrian Scottow @ Flickr

Flying from Gatwick was sometimes combined with travelling with one of the European low cost carriers, which was painful every step of the way. Booking a ticket online required you to go through a series of pages of extras; do you want to check in any bags? Travel insurance? Accommodation? A hire car? Finally you arrived on the payment page to discover that every payment method (except one obscure debit card that no one had) incurred an additional charge.

Next to work out how to get to your flight. This airline flew from secondary airports at inconvenient times. Often getting to the airport outside public transport times cost as much as your flight, but the combined cost was still cheaper than flying with anyone else.

We checked in online and took carry-on baggage only (ensuing it met the airlines strict requirements) to avoid the chaotic check-in area, complete with queue combers screaming for passengers for various flights. Once through security, we’d head to the gate to join the standing queue. The airline did not have allocated seating, so those who boarded last were often seated apart and their carry on taken to the aircraft hold as the luggage bins were already filled to overflowing. It was possible to pay extra to board the plane first, but as passengers were bussed to the aircraft, this was often not achieved by staff yelling for those passengers whilst trying to hold back the tide of passengers when the bus doors opened.

We sometimes took our own food as once in the air the cabin crew were up and down the aisle selling newspapers, magazines and drinks before they’d wheel out the average food available for purchase. They then spent the remainder of the flight trying to sell duty free and even lottery tickets.

I didn’t expect much for the cheap ticket price, but on one particularly bad flight we departed late, then were told once airborne that the aircraft didn’t have enough fuel to get to our destination so would be stopping en route to refuel, further delaying us. We hadn’t brought food as the airport offerings had been dire, and with the delays we were hungry and keen to buy something to eat. On the short sector to our refueling stop the cabin crew faffed around trying to sell newspapers, magazines and drinks and didn’t get around to the food before we started our descent. Finally on the second sector we could get some food from the depleted cart. Landing hours late, tired and angry I decided to call and complain. I should have reconsidered when I saw that the airline had a premium number for complaints. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was then on hold for ages adding to the cost of the expensive phone call. When I finally got through and explained what had happened I was told that as the flight had been less than three hours late, no compensation was due. In a huff I said I wouldn’t be flying with the airline in future to which the customer service officer replied, “Ok, bye” and hung up! Don’t let the aircraft door hit you on on the way out.

Leave a Reply