27 Oct 2010

Airport security: So was I right?

Regular Snowbloggers will know of my obsession with the bonkers airport security regime in this country, and beyond. Totally inconsistent, littered with absurd, ineffectual, intrusive, and inconsistent checks.

Well, the chairman of British Airways no less, has weighed in. Martin Broughton has now said what I’ve been saying for months and months.

Many machines at UK airports can check a laptop inside a bag. Some American screening systems can’t. So the Americans want our laptops checked outside the bag. But then you discover many internal flight checks in the US never check the laptop separately.

Shoes must be removed. According to Mr Broughton, American security is inconsistent on this one too. And then there is the ludicrous liquids check, which some airports check and many don’t, particularly in the US.

Mr Broughton tells us that almost all the most intrusive and inconsistent measures are demanded by the American authorities who do not carry them out on their own domestic flights. Broughton, addressing the UK Airport Operators Annual Conference has called for an end to allowing the US to call the shots on security.

OK, so some bloggers have hobby horses…there goes mine on airport security galloping away in a cloud of dust. I little thought to see the Chairman of Britain’s national airline in the saddle!


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38 reader comments

  1. William D says:

    Theater. That’s all it is. The gaping flaws are evident, the farce too.

    Oh and a chunk of cash for air-side revenue beneficiaries.

    Depressing and why I now prefer to take a 6 hour train trip rather than a 1 hour flight.

    You can see why BA is speaking up.

  2. adrian clarke says:

    Regular Snowbloggers will know of my obsession with the bonkers airport security regime in this country, and beyond. Totally inconsistent, littered with absurd, ineffectual, intrusive, and inconsistent checks.

    for one moment i thought Jon had come to his senses and was talking about the Labour party,but no it was about getting his “air miles” without security checks.The easy answer is do not go to the obsessive,”we are being attacked” by newsmen ,(sorry al qaeda) USA.With this sort of criticism you will become one of the great unwanted, in the land of the free.
    Or are you now promoting BA?

  3. Saltaire Sam says:

    As soon as I heard this on Today, I knew Jon would be tapping away at his laptop – probably still inside the bag.

    The one that always causes me a frisson of fear is the taking off the shoes. I can never remember if I’ve put on a pair of socks that doesn’t have a hole in the toe, known in my childhood as a spud.

    My desire on this brisk morning when there are walls of old cottages to be discovered, is that this stream doesn’t turn into a general anti-American rant in which I will have to side with my friends on the West Coast and New York.

  4. Mudplugger says:

    You are, of course, completely right. Most of the airport security nonsense is actually about the political incorrectness of ‘profiling’ and also about ‘bringing the public on-board’ so that we will accept many other repressions of our civil liberties under the guise of fatuous anti-terrorism programmes.
    Personally, I have refused to fly anywhere since 2006 – and that from one who was a very frequent airline customer. The increasing combination of ridiculous constraints meant that the benefits of flying no longer outweighed those over-bearing impositions, so I stay earthbound until common sense returns.
    If we all did that, then common sense would return far sooner.

  5. Alan says:

    I travel quite frequently in Europe and the US and there are a few noticeable differences in airport security: In the US you nearly always have to remove your shoes at security irrespective of type, but in the UK and it’s generally only enforced if you’re wearing boots.

    I’ve never been allowed to leave my laptop in its bag either in the UK, Europe, US or Japan, but most places now at least allow me to leave the cover/pouch on, acknowledging that it’s unlikely to have X-Ray blocking properties…

    The liquids thing has a lot of inconsistency. In general now I leave my liquids inside my case (albeit inside the clear, plastic bag) and the only place that has ever given me issue with this is the UK (well Glasgow Airport to be precise, I never fly intra-UK anymore!). Everywhere else they have no issue with the case going through with the liquids still inside, but at Glasgow on a couple of occasions I’ve been told I HAVE to remove them, even though I pointed out every other airport in the rest of the world doesn’t care. I was told if I didn’t then there’s no point in even putting them into the separate bag. I did say that was a whole other discussion… :-)

  6. Meg Howarth says:

    Can’t comment on the airport-security measures but do know that Eurostar also operated the ‘no-liquids’ policy when passing through the ticket-barrier at St Pancras last December. (Will ask staff later today whether that’s still the case.) The net result was that thirsty passengers were forced to buy expensive drinks from the coffee-outlet on the other side.

  7. Britt_W says:

    My main travel route is between the UK and Sweden and I have also noticed a lot of inconsistency when it comes to taking your laptop out of the bag – or not, and taking your shoes off – or not. When asked (As a child of the 60s-70s, I was brought up to always ‘ask why’!), the airport staff have told me it’s because the machines are different. Due to the stressful nature of security queuing, I never have enough time to come up with the follow-up question: “Well WHY is it different then?”
    Besides, I have also noticed the inconsistency you mention, when travelling (domestically) in the US and to other European destinations.

    And… can I just add:
    Well done on achieveing that Fire Brigade meeting, Jon! That was Channel 4 News at its best. If the strike is to be called off, I suggest this nation renames ‘Guy Fawkes night’ to ‘Jon Snow night’!

  8. Moonbeach says:

    I travel out of Luton about 10 times each year. I invariably get stopped by those tossers who ‘person’ the barriers. (I’m avoiding being called Neaderthal by Kate!)

    I wear the same clothes and shoes each time (washed, pressed and neatly brushed) because I know that they do not contain any metal.

    On 21 September at 6:30 am, the arch ‘beeped’ yet again. But I had got out of bed on the wrong side that day so was not my normal resigned self.

    I said to the official; “You and I both know that I do not have any metal on my person so do you enjoy frisking my body?” He replied “Random selection”. “Spherical objects!” said I and was greeted with a childlike giggle.

    I complained to the supervisor about the stupidity of stopping me but letting through others who more closely fitted a possible profile of a suicide bomber. I was told that they do not have a profile at Luton! Is that a lie or simply unprofessional?

    At Birmingham airport, UK citizens must traipse to the car park whilst cars for Emirates passengers are allowed to drive up to the Airport Arrivals doors; special treatment for Middle Eastern people. Why?

    Jon, I see your rant and raise it 1000 fold!

  9. Martin Veart says:

    My family went through T5 on transit over the weekend.

    Get off plane
    1. boarding card check
    2. boarding card check
    3. passport control
    4. boarding card check and photograph
    5. security scan
    6. boarding card and photo check
    7. boarding card scan
    Get on plane

    Surely this can be rationalised?

    Why not have a boarding card with the photograph of the passenger printed on it?

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Easy Martin , save the environment.Do not fly

    2. anniexf says:

      Adrian, we agree! :) I haven’t flown since 1984, & it really sickens me to see (& hear!) all the flights in & out of Birmingham Int. especially in the summer & at half-terms. There’s still plenty of money about – it’s polluting our skies. I suppose there could be less in future but people will still save up to visit their relatives in the sub-continent so I’m not very optimistic.

    3. Meg Howarth says:

      Agree, Adrian. Off-topic but re similar disregard for the environment: last night’s informative and fascinating BBC4 programme on the National Grid – Maynard Keynes signed a joint letter to the Times opposing the installation of (above-ground) pylons because of disfiguring effect on countryside! – told of a new-build 3-bed house under construction in Cheshire – the Surrey/stockbroker/footballer belt of the north – that will have more than 1000 lightbulbs when complete.

    4. Paul Begley says:

      Well said Adrian and others! On a slightly different topic (and less likely to be agreed), can I suggest a benchmark test for whether we can afford overseas aid? As long as any of us can afford to fly to package holidays several times a year, I’d say the answer is “Yes”.

    5. Saltaire Sam says:

      With a daughter living in New York I can’t promise not to fly but I agree with Paul on aid.

      No matter how tough things get here, the fact that thousands of children die for the lack of something as basic as clean water is an obscenity.

      Wayne Rooney, John Terry etc could probably sort it out on their own but until they do it’s up to the rest of us to contribute through our taxes and/or charity.

      My fear is, however, that the aid budget is now being seen as an adjunct to the Afghanistan war budget i.e. that the aid budget is being swallowed up cleaning up the mess we created. It is right we try to right that wrong but the cost shouldn’t be hidden in other budgets. We should know at the end just how many billions Tony Blair’s arrogance cost us.

    6. Martin Veart says:

      Well I’m not going to say “well said Adrain.”. All very well for those who say don’t fly but not all of us live in the south east and can hop on a high-speed link to the continent. Nor in Scotland do we have much of a summer. First family holiday in four years so what I don’t need is somebody begrudging us it.

    7. adrian clarke says:

      Martin i do not begrudge you or anyone else having a holiday , though there are lovely places within this country and plenty of cruises from these isles or continental coaches from all over the country.I certainly do not have access to any high speed links.
      You say Scotland does not have much of a summer,yet it is a holiday destination for many a sassenach.
      I have no real objection to people placing themselves in a potential flying coffin , but if they do and do not want it to be one ,i can not understand how they can complain of checks to prevent it.
      As for the environment , i would say space pollution ,which i have seen little data about is probably a greater pollutant than earth bound transport.Who knows what damage it does to the upper atmosphere ,but when on a clear day i can see about 30 aircraft trails an hour from my small piece of ground , i am sure it does considerable damage

    8. adrian clarke says:

      Paul , i can not say i disagree with overseas aid ,yet i do believe that government charity begins at home ,and that if we wish to assist backward states it should be done through charities and not through a government budget,unless we have a surplus.It certainly should not be increasing at a time of cuts.

  10. Citizen Smith says:

    Cant resist this one. This year i travelled regularly by plane for business and holiday.

    I regularly walk through customs with liquids, pen knife etc. and wait for Customs to request me take them out. Its amazing how many times you get through with liquids and my pen knife has never been removed.

    One time I walked into Spain off the plane without the passport being checked then arrived at the hotel only to find that the hotel wanted a copy of my passport for the local police…… horse…stable door…. bolted?

    Returning from Malaga to East Midlands at 2100 approx i walked off the plane and exited the airport without seeing any customs officials.

    Its a frickin’ joke!

  11. MarkW says:

    Jon, you are, of course, correct.
    Bruce Schneier calls this “Security Theatre”.
    I think to understand the problem, you have to follow the money. Who makes all the scanners, sniffers, X-Ray machines? Who is on the boards of these companies.

    Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

    I flew to the US via Heathrow in 2000. I won’t return if I am to be treated like a criminal.

  12. bdbcks says:

    must be great for those that frequently fly having to slip thru the new full body scanner with its delightful rays of ionized radiation.

    course the “authorities” claim they are harmless but personally if i was in and out of this and that country every week i’d be opting out and making do with the traditional body frisk.

    except of course in the uk, where people can’t “opt out” of a full body scan. you either slip thru the scanner or don’t fly at all… and that includes pilots and cabin crew! aka the most important “frequent flyers” that there are.

    the invisible prison is slowly starting to uncloak itself.

  13. Peter Stewert says:

    A lot of bees in not enough bonnets, but airport security is more like a wasp, one of the unnecessarily nasty ones that lays its eggs inside other insects.

    Beyond screening workers at airports, and securing the flight cabin (not to sure on the value in arming the cabin crew, but meh…) there really isn’t much else that is reasonable about the security measures. So now we may not need easy-off shoes nor risk losing property as we unpack/repack, but not due to an outbreak of common sense, but because we will go moving through a virtual strip search via body scanners.

    The positive side to this is that I now feel less anachronistic in taking the long and slow option for travel.

  14. Abuelo says:

    As a white-haired 63 year old man who has been stopped and searched several times on holiday trips over recent years I agree with much that has been mentioned above about inconsistency and redundancy of procedures. An unusually affable immigration office at JFK New York told me as I was being fingerprinted and photographed a couple of years ago: “They never look at all this stuff.”

    I wonder if reciprocal arrangements might hasten some fresh look at all this and some rationality. Might it help move things forward rapidly if all US citizens arriving in the UK and the EU were to be fingerprinted, photographed and subjected to long delays at immigration?

    I do want to be kept safe and I accept totally the need for security checks. Consistency, clarity and common sense should be a their basis though.

  15. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    So you are on your hobby horse again. They continue to take the liquids.

    The US is similar to any other organisations though. Management make the rules and write them out , but don’t apply them.

    When the rules can be brought out to get members of staff out or for another purposes . They will do so.

  16. Gerard Horgan says:


    Potential cholera outbreak in Port Au Prince, major public health issue. 1.3 million people in tents and at risk, please report.


    Best wishes,

  17. Philip says:

    I realise this is about potential hijackers or suicide bombers in aircraft, but checks for ferries are so toothless that i reckon I could drive a car laden with explosives on & my chances of detection would be 1 in 100,000. Flying to Italy rceently we had –
    1 bag drop = boarding pass + passport check
    2 security check (boarding pass)
    3 Border Agency passport control
    4 check of passport/boarding pass at exit gates.
    Given that I’d prefer not to end my life in a suicide bombing, I don’t find these too intrusive. I’d also be content to continue with the liquids, etc restrictions if the evidence from security services around the world continue to suggest al qaeda plans to use that sort of equipment. As someone who as a child nearly killed himself several times doing risky & foolhardy things, I tend to the view that a little inconvenience to preserve my health & safety is better than being able to do just what I want to do – especially where others might also be hurt.Given the safety record of UK flights & virtually all other areas, we should be proud of what we’ve achieved & be dismantling it cautiously.

  18. anniexf says:

    We were recently given the impression that terrorism is shifting its focus to the Mumbai-type atrocity – men with guns in highly-populated and/or prestigious areas, shooting at random. Surely the days of the airborne terrorist are numbered by now?
    Personally I’d rather expected Al Q. to introduce viruses or contaminate the water supplies; but I imagine they’ve considered those. I tend towards the “theatre” view – airport security is mostly for show, with little evidence of effectiveness, and somewhat ” stable door, horse bolted”. After all, the shoe-bomber was caught by passengers, not security checks.

  19. Skopelos 37003 says:

    Flying in the U.S. shortly after 9/11 I was selected randomly and frisked by a guard with a wand, which made a very loud beeping noise, much to the consternation of the other waiting passengers. The guard turned it down a little, it still beeped. He kept turning it down until it stopped beeping. ‘It’s all new to me’ he explained as he let me go back to the check-in line…

  20. wee folding bike says:

    What’s wrong with your bike today?

  21. Phil Davies says:

    Fully agree many of the security checks are a complete waste of time and yet again common sense is not applied. However I feel the UK airport operators need to get their own house in order before blaming the US for eveything. Why will it be OK to get rid of liquids ban in 2013 but not now? Economics of course. Once it’s gone, sales of replacement liquids the other side of security will fall. Also a lot of wasted queuing time can be reduced by streamlining the identity checks. How many times do we have to show passports and boarding cards before we get to sit on a plane? Even to buy a bar of chocolate in ‘duty free’ though I doubt there are too many customers there without one.

  22. Dave says:


    Last night on national television, the leader of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), Councillor Brian Coleman, invited the FBU to concilliation talks at 9.00am this morning at London Fire Brigade headquarters.

    However, Councillor Coleman did not appear in person, and the talks broke up without agreement.

    The FBU’s Ian Leahair said: “It’s dreadfully disappointing that after four hours there was still no sign of Brian Coleman or the Chief Fire Officer, Ron Dobson. Regrettably, the brigade representatives in attendance had nothing new to say to us.

    “Where was Councillor Coleman at 9.00am, having said on national TV last night that he would be here in talks with us? He is not treating this issue with the seriousness that firefighters and London ers expect of the leader of the LFEPA.

    “The LFEPA proposals on new working hours would seriously disrupt firefighters’ family lives and lead to cuts in fire cover. All the same, the LFEPA does not have to reach agreement with us on shifts to get us to call off the strikes. They just have to withdraw the sacking notices that were sent out on August 11th.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      If you had to work all shift i might have a little sympathy,but i could never support any strike ,especially one that potentially puts lives at risks.If your actions should cost a life a manslaughter charge would be in order

  23. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    To be honest there are more important matters than the slight inconveninece of security measures at passport control/ boarding etc to think about.

    I don’t know how anyone can even begin to doubt stringent mesures when you think about 9/11.

    It is simply EGO talking..everyone has an ego.. you know ..why should they check me when I am the most honest person on earth etc…

  24. Martin Veart says:

    Margaret, there is that but one should not forget that it isn’t for free: there are many companies making a fortune out of security. If many checks are redundant, is it reasonable that the travelling public should still have to pay?

    1. margaret brandreth- jones says:

      Balancing probabilities/ possibilities/ effective management and a small amount of profitability to make measures worthwhile is ethical management in action.A task for the government to see how it can be applied .

      Rather than travel , if not safe , I suspect many would stay at home and imagine how many industries that would impact upon .

  25. Martin says:

    we have to thank muslims for all this secutiry

  26. Rachel says:

    The problem with airport security and passenger security checks as far as I can see it is; they seem so reactionary. We have all these so called security-experts, with their combined expertise and intelligence as well as an army of scanners, sniffers, metal detectors, bag-checks, all leading to the type of long-queues that haven’t been seen since 1970s Russia, but they check only for things that have already happened. This came to light just recently with the cargo fiasco from… was it Yemen? So now we have banned cargo from Yemen. Blimey! Who’d have thought of that? My mum could have come up with a better plan! You would think, with all these experts and advisors that they pre-empt this kind of thing and have a plan in place before it happens. That would be my plan anyway. All the terrorists have to do; is something they haven’t done before, and we’re stumped. Come on experts, get your thinking caps on, think of it before they do, that’s what you’re getting paid for!

    PS: Great ties BTW- love em.

  27. 24 years service says:

    I’m happy with security checks. However, having had numerous checks at heathrow the other day to be picked out to get an extra check by a young girl who did nothing but nervously giggle and peeked into my bad without actualy looking.

    That is irksome but it was incredible in Las Vegas airport, bags being left unattended (to keep peoples place in queues while they went away. No security questions, in fact very little security. This is not an anti US rant but an anti Las Vegas airport blog as their security was apauling

  28. Denise A Beresford says:

    The media don’t seem to have reported the real issues of naked image body scanners.Jon,we need an indepth report on the rights we are giving up too easily and wether they are really efficient and not open to abuse. I don’t trust the spiel we are fed.We make a big mistake if we think that the terrorist are not intelligent enough to already be one step ahead of us anyway and then how long will it be before we have to get into internal examinations and full xrays before everbody is up in arms about their civil liberties.When I travelled to Kenya in August I had no idea of the right I was giving up just by booking my tickets.I hadn’t seen/heard anything in the media.Would we have voted for it in an election.Terrorist haven’t changed the way I go about my daily life, but my government has because I can’t pose naked for them.We should all stop travelling by air and hit them (travel companies, airport authorities, airlines and the government from the taxes they get from air travel)where it hurts.Ed Murrow, said that no one can terrorize a hole nation, unless we re all his accomplices.We are all his accomplices while we say and do nothing.The war on terror is lost. My gov has terrified me!

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