Airport security: why it makes grown men cry

It was at Heathrow Airport that I had a screwdriver confiscated.

Okay, you might reasonably say.

Unless you knew it was one of those minute devices for tightening the tiny hinge screws in a pair of reading spectacles. It was exactly an inch (24mm) long, plastic-handled, and the metal part measured about a quarter of an inch.


Glasses and driver.jpg

The confiscated screwdriver was smaller than this one.

I remonstrated cheerfully with the security staff about what kind of threat I could constitute, armed with this tiny instrument. The response was equally cheerful but resigned: screwdrivers not permitted.

It was summarily dumped into the box containing a mass of pretty harmless domestic items.

Being a front-line airport security team member cannot be much fun. You are as much loved by your “victims” as a traffic warden, and you know it – and frequently get told it. The job is repetitive, poorly paid, and operatives are given no credit for having any intelligence.

If they were credited with intelligence they would, during their training, be provided with sufficient knowledge to enable them to use their discretion as to whether a device could realistically be used to create a threat - or even a nuisance – on an aircraft.

Being treated as if you have no intelligence gives you no incentive to act intelligently. In fact it gives you no incentive to do your job. I had taken the same screwdriver through Heathrow and other airports countless times before somebody saw it. Does that represent a failure of security? Answers on a postcard, please (or click to respond to this blog).

When they nicked the screwdriver, here’s what they missed: dental floss (for garotting cabin crew); laptop power cable (same purpose); slender metal ball-point pen (as good as a screwdriver for threatening people).

And, of course, the passenger encounters the ultimate proof of what a charade the overall security policy for airports is once he/she gets airside. You can buy a large glass bottle of duty-free liquor to carry with you. Large glass bottles, as members of street gangs know, when broken are truly fearsome weapons.

But who cares about that threat to the cabin crew and other passengers?

The duplicity of the policymaking government departments who know this full well is absolutely breathtaking. But somehow they remain completely unaccountable.


6 Responses to Airport security: why it makes grown men cry

  1. James 13 October, 2008 at 12:33 am #

    Furthermore: You cannot bring a 750ml glass bottle of wine/spirits through security if it contains any quantity of liquid. However, if the same bottle is completely empty it’s ok….

    So pour your Penfold’s Grange down the drain; they’ll at least let you keep the bottle.

  2. ExSp33db1rd 13 October, 2008 at 3:37 am #

    Meanwhile – the real bad guys are laughing at us, they will do exactly what they want to do, when and where they want to do it. No sweat.

  3. Barry 14 October, 2008 at 6:34 pm #

    Airline pilot selling half a dozen ways to blow T5 skyhigh. Prospective terrorists stand-by for numbered account in the Caymans… ;-) )))))))))))))))))

  4. Phil Smith 14 October, 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    You think that’s silly? If a pilot about to go on service is carrying a 250 ml bottle of water it will be confiscated. This is the same person who is about to take charge of many tonnes of aviation fuel. Of course, as long as his ID card looks vaguely OK, and he isn’t carrying the water or a pair of nail clippers he will be waved through, regardless of his true identity.

  5. Gerald Wilson 19 November, 2008 at 11:54 pm #

    I recently transitted through Heathrow T5 to Manchester on the way back from Montreal. Unthinkingly, I had bought a bottle of duty free Campari in Montreal. Ignoring the advice at 9.30am to “drink any fluids” I left the bottle in my brief case hoping to get away with it, but to no avail. As soon as the bleeper went, I admitted I had a bottle of duty free. This resulted in my brief case being turned out and swabbed for explosive. I was then allowed to keep the bottle provided it was checked into cabin baggage for the flight to Manchester and the security guard had to carry it accompanied by me to the baggage check-in downstairs in the main terminal area. My main concern was to ensure that the bottle didn’t break in the subsequent flight, so I put a fleece in with it and it successfully arrived unbroken in Manchester. What struck me, a putative terrorist, however, was that neither I nor the bottle of presumed explosive were checked out. Well, it was blindingly obvious it was just a bottle of duty free and I could have opened it and drunk a tot even at 9.30am, if necessary, but if there was a problem the security was woefully inadequate and if there wasn’t a problem, what was the fuss all about?

    PS And oh yes, I have lost more of those tiny Swiss Army pen-knives with nail fail and scissors than I can remember.

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