diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I'm not very good at flying. I can cope with the taking off and the landing, and with varying degrees of mid-flight turbulence, but I'm completely rubbish at the security check before boarding. I dread it, because I always mess it up. I fear it, because I'm usually made to look like a guilty idiot. And I hate it, because it's so bloody pointless.

I've made two domestic flights over the last few days, one to Edinburgh and another back to London. And I tried ever so hard not to make a show of myself. I packed my belt in my hand luggage, even if that left my trousers a bit loose. I packed all my liquids in my suitcase, because I'd rather not struggle with the latest instructions on what is and isn't permitted. And I thought I'd emptied my pockets of everything metal into the plastic tray before walking through the arch. But no. Beep beep beep. Dammit.

"Would you take your shoes off please, sir?". Sigh. Here beginneth the Security Wand Ballet. I stood with arms outstretched while a dour uniformed bloke waved his detector over my body, then underneath one foot, then underneath the other. I was treated to a full minute of human puppeteering, checking nooks and crannies here there and everywhere, ultimately to no avail. I'm sure all the other passengers in the hall were watching my performance - I would have done if I'd been them - and I felt belittled by the experience.

I then struggled to reassemble my composure, and my belongings. Keys back in that pocket, phone back in the other pocket. And, er, those coins, and this pen, and my jacket, and a pair of shoes to lace, awkwardly, slowly. Plus I'd been forced to take my laptop out of its case earlier, which had displaced a few more loose bits and pieces, so all of this still had to be repacked ready for boarding. I spent longer blocking the post-arch conveyor belt than I'd spent being electronically frisked in the first place. How useless did I feel?

I was more fortunate on the trip home, but one of my travelling companions had to stand around while his shaving gel was ostentatiously confiscated. There were only few last squeezes left in the bottle, but the printed capacity when full exceeded 100ml so everything had be chucked away. No lives were saved, but several petty unbending regulations were duly ticked.

In-flight security is important, I know, because everyone likes to travel secure in the knowledge that their plane shouldn't explode in mid-air. But much of the hassle we now have to endure before flying is pointless hoop-jumping, merely to ensure that some one-off bonkers (foiled) plot can't happen again. Just because Lucozade bottles and nail scissors could potentially be used to bring down a plane doesn't mean that anybody's actually planning to do so ever again. Especially not on your flight. But let's throw them all away anyway.

I bet I carried something on board which in a few years time will be deemed a totally unacceptable security risk. Shoelaces perhaps, or a wristwatch, or some other unlikely artefact that one single useless terrorist will attempt to twist to some evil end. No matter that their attempt will probably fail, and that the associated risk will be virtually zero, we'll all have to amend our behaviour and follow ridiculously stringent additional regulations before being allowed to board an aeroplane. Security only ever seems to ramp up, not down.

At least other forms of travel aren't yet the preserve of irrational kneejerk paranoia. Want to blow up the train to Edinburgh? Nobody's stopping you. Fancy crashing your car into a petrol station? Go ahead. But want to board a plane carrying a tube of toothpaste? Expect to be singled out, reprimanded and publicly humiliated. This global security charade puts me off flying far more than any eco-carbon campaign. And it can only get worse. Better safe than sorry? Or sorry to be playing so safe?

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