Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Traveling Home and Baffling Terror

Before we left the family manse on Saturday morning (12/26) I happened to turn the news on to the reports about the Delta Airlines flight in Detroit. I realized immediately that I needed to keep quiet about this but I anticipated a raft of issues when we got to Heathrow. Not so. Our pass through security and the wait in the terminal was no different than any other flight.

As we boarded however, every passenger was re-screened and patted down. I actually have no problem with this if it is done one of two ways: Either no one gets the treatment or we all do. One of my most vivid memories of traveling as a child during the 1970s occurred at Frankfurt's Main airport where on boarding our Pan Am flight security had erected a screened pen where they were selectively strip searching passengers. What goes around comes around but it also shows that not too much has been learned. In a poorly executed exercise that had the entire passenger load lined up the gang way for 2hours, we were lucky enough to get on board early.

After about an hour the first curious announcement was made: All water bottles carried on board had to be handed over. At this point half the passengers had already been searched and were in their seats. The flight crew could only rely on the honesty of each passenger to hand over their bottles. If you were up to no good why volunteer?

The flight took off and we were tucking into our meal watching a movie when the next weird announcement was made: On FAA instruction the in-flight entertainment system had to be turned off. But we could still use our own electronic 'devices'. That was until the next announcement about 20mins later: Anything with an on-off switch had to be turned off. Again, if you were up to no good....

The crew had no idea either and the in flight purser (or whatever he was) was completely inarticulate which only made the whole thing more bizarre (there was nothing from the Captain). The weirdness only got worse when they announced they had to collect all pillows and blankets prior to landing and that for the last hour of the flight no one could stand-up or visit the dunny. (The last bit is not too controversial since that was/is in effect for flights to DC). Mrs PND who was still ignorant of the Detroit issue (it was never mentioned on the plane) was becoming increasingly baffled (and in full bluster).

The whole thing was as though they were making it up as they went along but I am glad we got out before the silliness really got started. Out of all of this is the constancy that the 'security' process is more for passenger's piece of mind, that circumventing 'security' is easy and that we are always several steps behind. Indeed on the last point, a read of Fred Forsyth, Tom Clancy or Mark Burnell represents enough of a blue print as to what the bad guys are up to.

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