Friday, 11 August 2017

Dziadzio's penknife - airport security here and there

When my father landed in Warsaw with Moni, she told me about that moment at security at Heathrow when they discovered his penknife among his carry-on luggage. They let him on the plane, reasoning, as Moni said afterwards, that the blade (two and a quarter inches long) was too short to penetrate the human chest as far as the heart. Another, unsaid, reason was probably that nonagenarians are the least likely demographic group to want to hijack a plane.

The incident was forgotten about until the return journey, with me accompanying my father on the Warsaw-Heathrow flight. At Okęcie, security also picked up the penknife, but were adamant that they'd not be letting it on the plane. My father protested that, while of little value in its own right, it was a precious possession of his of great sentimental value, something he'd had for many decades. But the security guys would not let Dziadzio on the plane with the knife, saying that should he produce it during the flight, someone might have a panic attack, and they would be blamed, not the passenger. The security guards said they'd let me take the penknife back out of the security area and make my own arrangements for its safe keeping.

This I did, but not having with me my wallet, I had no means of sending the penknife on to London from the post office on the first floor of the terminal. So I struck on brilliant idea of hiding it in a Cold War spy-style drop point from which I could retrieve it on my return.

Walking out of Departures I noticed the sliding doors are mounted in aluminium frames, with a hollow rear profile. Ideal! I could see the CCTV camera (top right in picture below), so it could see me. I knelt down next to the door-frame pretending to tie my shoe lace, then using my hand to push myself upright; as I did so, I slipped the knife round the side of the frame, out of sight.

And a week later, returning there yesterday evening, I made my way upstairs from Arrivals to Departures, turned left out the same door, stooped to "tie up my shoelace", put my hand behind the door frame... Bingo! There it was, just as I'd left it. It gave me great satisfaction to report to my father that his little penknife was safe in my hands.

Given that I nearly always travel light without any hold baggage, it will be sent back to London by post to avoid any such problems in the future. Indeed, the penknife, manufactured by Richards of Sheffield, England, is of little intrinsic value (ones identical to this, with picture of hippo, marked 'Africa', are available on Ebay for around $20). But it felt so good to have retrieved it.

Sixteen years after 9/11, we have become inured to airport security and grudgingly accept it as the price we pay for safe flight. But the incident of Dziadzio's penknife - consciously allowed onto a flight at one airport but refused by another - makes me realise that much of airport security is indeed theatre.

I am a frequent flyer, boarding a flight around 20 times a year. Going through security is something one does, it's not pleasant, but put away your ego to ensure a smooth passage through the terminal from street to plane. Every now and then I walk through the x-ray gate and the beeper goes off. I've stripped every smallest bit of metal off of myself, so I know it can only be one thing - the Random Passenger Beep. This is to reinforce the impression to other passengers that even should every single passenger conform totally to the demands of security - belts, watches, jewellery, glasses, footwear over ankle-high, nothing in any pocket - someone every now and then must make the thing go Beep. So it's preset to a random number. You're the 17th (or whatever) passenger going through - and Beep. Even though you are as clean as a (plastic) whistle.

At Luton you get shepherded into a full-body scanner. You are then patted down. The people doing this know full well there's nothing the matter with you, but they have to be seen to be doing this. Theatre. It is of course, highly humiliating to be treated as a potential terrorist threat.

At Okęcie, they can see that a middle-aged European guy does not fit the profile. But still the beeper went off, and the red light flashed. But instead of wasting time and resources on a thorough check of someone who's not in the least bit likely to try it on, they merely ask me to hold out my hands and pass a swab on a stick over my palms. "You may go." Great! Theatre achieved, passenger only minimally put out.

However, there are different differences. At Okęcie, your laptop must be taken out of its case, which cannot be put either under or on top of said laptop. Ideally, the case should go through the scanner in a separate tray. At Luton and Heathrow - not a problem, sir. The laptop can stay in its case or bag. Better scanners, I guess. One funny situation at Okęcie. I was flying with two camera lenses in my rucksack. I was told off for not taking all the electronic equipment out for the scan. I protested that a lens contains zero electronics, being merely glass, metal and plastic. The electronics are in the camera, which was indeed scanned separately. The security guys ummed and ahhed and finally said - triumphantly "but it is PART of electronic equipment". No point of arguing the toss. Just smile, say yes and go through. (At Luton I'd had no problem with lenses in rucksack).

So it's one rule here, one rule there. In the meanwhile, let us give conscious thanks that the security measures in place at our airports are preventing any further terrorist outrages in the air.

The picture of the tape measure and blade puts me in mind of the great, curiously haunting Jim Ford song Thirty Six Inches High, performed definitively by Nick Lowe, on his Jesus of Cool album.

This time three years ago:
Post-holiday detox diet starts today

This time four years ago:
Cycle ride up and down the S2 and S79 before they open

This time five years ago:
Kraks and back in a day by train 

This time six years ago:
Fountains by the New Town

This time seven years ago:
Old-School Saska Kępa

This time eight years ago:
The land, the light

This time nine years ago:
Rainbow over Jeziorki

This time ten years ago:
Previously in Portmeirion

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post about something that all air travellers are subject to from time to time: getting through airport security with things they really shouldn't have on their person. Something similar happened to me at Bristol Airport on my way to Krakow a few years ago. I had somehow forgotten about my beloved Swiss army knife that my late father had bought for me, packed in my carry-on luggage. The very kind security guard told me to go down to the post office,buy a padded envelope and mail it to myself in Poland. Then I could re-join the front of the queue and go through. All this I did and lo and behold, my knife arrived at my address in Krakow a few days later. The human touch shone through in what must be a very repetitive, challenging work environment. I am not a robot. Darren Clarke, Krakow.