Friday, March 12, 2010
varying airport security
Back to the airport today, in lieu of my trip to London. (And hopefully a little bit of France while...in the area.)
I'll be gone for around 3 weeks. It's a long time to live out of a suitcase.
As much as I love travelling, and I live for the next trip, the one thing that starts to wear thin pretty quickly is the security process at each airport. Each is different, and below describes some of the worst and best scenarios I've faced in the past.
(I'm loving my lists lately, can you tell?)
It's a hut on the side of a short grassy stretch of dodgy-looking tarmac, that looks more like a driveway than a runway.
You walk in, flash your Saffa passport (which for once, is recognised as SADAC, and therefore no visa needed. This is big). Bags are deposited on the runway. You choose which is yours. If you're waiting for another plane, you can have a Laurentina at a table located about 10 metres from the plane.
Have had shit stolen here before, so it's imperative you find your stuff fast.
Any first world airport - not including the States
Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, Dublin, etc.
Have picture taken. Stand in long security queues, while you take belt, jewellery, boots off, while at same time, whack your 50 ml bottles into a little plastic bag.
At Dublin airport you have to buy the plastic bag, for a euro. That's R11 for a plastic bag that they want.
Take PC out of bag, expose plumber's crack to rest of queue as you grapple with the yanking off of boots.
Prepare for inspection of 50ml bottles and possible lip glosses. If you've lost the memo and packed wine (read: Diemersfontein pinotage) in your bag, then prepare to hand over to security. If you've bought liquids at Duty Free (read: Limoncello from Rome), hand it over and accept the fact you've just wasted 100 euros.
If machine beeps when you walk under it, be prepared for full body rub down by a surly woman with a female 'tache.
On the other side, prepare to be asked by a Pakistani man in a turban why you're entering his British nation in a manner that makes you feel like you should be sent to the Nuaghty Corner, even though you don't know why.
First World, isolated case-airports
Auckland, New Zealand.
They're a little paranoid that their entire sheep population is going to get annihilated by disease. So if you're coming in from Africa, the beagles at the conveyor belt generally make a beeline for your bags.
I had an apple in there, and they freaked out.
Don't even think about taking biltong over for a mate, or anything food-related.
Third World Countries: admin and chaos
Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Nairobi.
Security may be slacker, but be prepared to have to fork out cash for the most ridiculous things, while fighting with hoards of angry people who don't know how to form a straight line, in a different language, while mass confusion and frustration occurs.
Mexico City: we lost the Brit's immigration form, he was supposedly meant to keep the whole trip. Nobody tells you this stuff, or if they did, it was in Spanish.
Have to pay 600 pesos penalty fee. (About R500).
Fight queues, pay more tax on other shit, stand in long queues and dream of First World efficiency.
Nairobi: also some funny form you have to fill out, while paying a tax fee. In Nigeria they have been known to take your passport and you have to pay to get it back. Bribery and corruption is a normal thing.
Buenos Aires: somehow ended up paying double airport tax. WTF. At $60 US each time, was a little annoyed. Long queues. You'll stand at immigration waiting for them to stamp your passport for hours.
Third World countries: where drug trafficking means death
Even if you're aren't a cocaine mule, you're going to sweat when you leave Bangkok. You're going to check every pocket in your backpack in the event someone planted something in there. There are scary signs everywhere reminding you that if you're carrying anything illegal, you die. Or otherwise spend the rest of your living years in one of the world's more notorious prisons. They have people wondering around in plain clothes watching body language.
Second most difficult airports to get through
This may be surprising to you: The United States.
Now, granted I was last there in 2002, when the Twin Towers had just come down. It's become worse as the years and terrorism racks up, of course.
However, this is what happened to me when I was there:
Boots off, watch off.
Watch inspected, under suspicions that a bomb may be in it. (Denver airport)
Tweezers thrown in bin.
Backpack swabbed for bomb residue.
After x-ray machine, had to unlock all the pockets for inspection.
Interrogation of what I'm doing in the country, more questions of what type of work I'll be doing there in line with my J-1 student/working visa (JFK airport, New York).
General 'criminal until proven guilty' system until you clear through immigration.
Most flights out of Mexico fly through the States. Luckily ours didn't. However, at that stage you weren't allow to buy any liquids from Duty Free because of the Nigerian terrorist situ that just happened.
Most difficult airport
Tel Aviv, Israel
What I find strange is that entering Israel is pretty easy. South Africans don't need visas, although you do get a stamp in your passport which means you can't enter various Arab countries thereafter, until you get a new passport. Dubai included.
It's leaving though, that shit comes down. Perhaps it's because of terrorism pertaining to plane hi-jackings and bombs. I don't know, but this is how it works at Ben Gurion Airport:
Arrive 3.5 hours before your flight. Any time afterwards, you will miss your flight.
Have letter from work in hand, with special clearance reference number.
It'll probably be 3:00am in the morning.
Stand in a long snaking queue.
Have an interrogator ask questions to every person in the queue, one by one.
('Why did you come to Israel? What did you do here? Where do you work? What is your name?' These people supposedly look at your body language.)
They will come around again. And ask you the same questions. Again.
If you look slightly dodgy, you'll be taken to a room for further questioning. Cooperate. Or again, you will miss your flight.
Put all luggage, including checked-in suitcases through x-ray machine.
Stand in new queue.
Have security officers go through your bags with bomb scanners and gloves - all mandatory.
Worry that they'll find your kinky underwear, hold it up, and investigate.
Stand in new queue.
Go through another x-ray machine.
Run onto plane.
Moral of the story is: cooperate and don't carry bombs. Or objects that look like bombs. It's worth going through this crap to see a new place of course, but sometimes it's a long road getting there.
I'm pretty excited about getting to London tomorrow.