Friday, August 25, 2006

Airport security

I am just back from Peru and I feel I must comment briefly on the airport security crisis of 10 August. I left for Peru on 24 July and I sat in the airport in Belfast, everything was fine until I went to check-in. The security man said to me 'Goodmorning sir where is your final destination today?' As soon as I told him Lima Peru he was shocked and went away. I could see three of them and they got into a circle and were obviously talking about about me. One by one they each came and asked me where I was going and why. After the third it got comical. They then proceeded to search my bags, they found plant food that I was bringing for Isabel's Mum and discarded it but apart from that they found nothing and while they were doing this they took away my passport.

The reason I am unhappy with this is that it ws quite obvious to me that they only did it because I was travelling to Lima. Continental airlines were very happy to take my money and they had known I was travelling to Lima for 5 months. There was no suggestion that I was behaving suspiciously or that they suspected something. If all security was as simple as this surely we could just say that all people travelling to Pakistan or Iraq are suicide bombers and all travellers to Peru are drug dealers. The security of myself and my family is extremely important but I cannot understand how someone could say 'at Continental we take security seriously'. I think this just reveals that security people don't have a clue and that the events of August 10 were inevitable.

At the very least security checks should be random. It should also be noted that no one tried to investigate my story. I will make it quite clear. My wife Isabel is from Peru. She travelled to Peru separately from me because she gets two months off work. I was travelling to Peru to meet her and spend time with her family. No one asked me 'how long have you been married?' 'how did you meet your wife?' 'why did you not travel with her?'. No one even asked me what was the name of my wife. Instead one guy tried to ask me if I knew the same people he knew in the area that I live. I thought it quite obvious he was trying to trick me and it is irrelevent if I know or don't know his friends anyway. It is far from professional and 'serious'.

The guys in London with the bombs were probably travelling to New York. If I had told the security guards I was travelling to New York I am quite sure I wouldn't have been searched. Regardless of whether security guards would have found the bombs or not, I think security needs to be strategic, guards need to think and they need to think beyond simply where people are travelling to. I think it is relatively simple to grasp the idea that people who want to smuggle something or plan a crime don't go direct and they don't all look like bombers, they pose as business men and they travel to ordinary places.

When I travelled to Newark I was not treated in this way, the fact that I was going to Lima was irrelevent. I think that this proves that I did not look suspicious, they did not think that I was a threat. I think it is more probable that the other passengers on the flight might have been a risk.

The one problem I did have at Newark reveals another problem that we are facing. The customs lady would not let me through because I had left the line on the immigration form blank were you write US address. I didn't have an address because I was a transit passenger and I was spending one hour in Newark before travelling on to Peru. It is ridiculous to think that all passenger must write down an address. This is what happens when employers treat employees like computers. When they are not taught to think. All she was doing was behaving like a web form with a mandatory field. 'If you don't fill that in, he won't let you through' she told me repeatedly. I eventually wrote down Newark airport as my address because I had no other option and I only had 50 minutes to get to my next flight which was difficult because Newark is full of queues. I am sure that hundreds of people fly through Newark to other places in the world apart from the US. They don't have US addresses to go to and yet that arrogant customs guard still insisted that everyone had to fill out that line

When employees like this are not allowed to think and become obsessed with power we will all face problems because all of us at some point or other have to deal with being an exception. We all know that sometimes we are not able to answer simple questions. Another problem I had when I checked in was that the address of Isabel's house in Peru does not have a postal code. In fact no house in Peru has a postal code but yet the air steward insisted that she would not let me on the flight if I did not give her a postal code. Other evidence that too many people are not thinking - and not being allowed to think. Which will inevitably bring us to a crisis, if not in security in our personal relations.