Security: Not as Easy as it Appears on TV

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Mt. Snowdon, Llanberis, North Wales

Mt. Snowdon, Llanberis, North Wales

 

In Tickets, Please! I hinted at other stories from my past, and thought I would take some of my journal entries and my old Live Journal and include them here. Some of them are not so dated that they are not relevant any longer.

Prior to my most recent trip to Wales in 2009, the only other times that I’ve flown were when I was five (with my Dad to Canada, and I can picture my cute little outfit and pocketbook) and when I was twenty (to meet my college roommate who was student teaching in the UK). Obviously, both of these occurred before 9/11 and security was definitely not the same then as it is now.

In fact, for the overseas trip in 1986, I carried a paper bag of wrapped Christmas presents for my friend that sat on my lap the entire time because it would not fit in the overhead compartment. I’m pretty sure this would be frowned upon nowadays.

So, to recap, I’ve flown in 1970 or 1971, 1986 and then again in 2009.

Not a very good track record of airline travel.

I may have also mentioned in previous postings here that I am very anxious. At the time of the 2009 trip, I had not been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder and just put it off to the normal anxiety of traveling alone and the lack of experience. I can tell you that while I was still nervous (and still undiagnosed) in 2011, it was still a much better experience as far as my anxiety levels, and my recent train trip had almost no anxiety at all. All of those stories will eventually come if you stick around long enough.

Wales, 2009: The lesson in how not to go through security.

Three times.

I honestly thought I was prepared. I like to be prepared. If I am nothing, I am prepared. I usually have the extra diaper, the napkins or pack of tissues, the spare change; so when I was planning my trip to Wales, I did not want to wait until the last minute to get British pounds or wait until I had arrived in Manchester.

I also did not want to wait until my departure from Newark Airport, which I pictured as a large foreboding place and where I’d be sitting alone for hours on end and everyone would know that I had money and I would be mugged. Or some other crazy scenario that never happens but everyone still thinks does.

I do think of everything.

Our local airport is big enough – they call it an international airport after all, although I don’t believe that I could fly overseas directly from here.  I planned on popping in to buy British currency. The procedure is simple. You make an appointment, go to the information office, show them your passport, they give you a pass, you then go through security with your pass and your passport, and go to the business office to exchange (they call it buying) your currency.

Okay, no problem.

I do all that, and there’s a really long line for security. That’s okay though. It gives me time to get acclimated and get used to the procedure as I watch other people going through. I listen to the chit-chat. I reach into my oversized bag and feel around for Bob. (If you haven’t met Bob yet, he is my talisman, and he will make occasional appearances on my site.)

He’s there.

I feel safe.

I get to the front of the line, and I will have to recount about the elderly woman in the wheelchair with her identification problems at another time. After her, it’s my turn, and I hand the TSA officer my passport, and there’s this long pause.

Well, it wasn’t that long, but it felt like forever and I couldn’t figure out why. He informed me that the passport isn’t signed, and I think I said something like, “What do you mean?”

Apparently, you are supposed to sign your passport when you get it.

Laugh if you want, but I did not know that.

I thought they came like your driver’s license – already signed, but no, they don’t.

I was so embarrassed. I was lucky a manager was there and I had to sign it in front of them, show my driver’s license, get the manager’s approval, and then they let me in.

Bob was embarrassed by me too. It probably won’t be the first time.

Then it’s time to grab a bin, take off your shoes and put them and your liquids, jacket, purse into the bin. Or two bins. The woman ahead of me had three bins plus her luggage. Go through the metal detector and then you re-dress. Just to add that if you’re a man, you’ll need to also take off your belt.

They do not care that I’m not getting on a flight. If I’m going into the secure area, I need to go through security just like everyone else. I also needed the pass because I did not have a ticket, which is also required.

(At this time (and in 2011), they only had the traditional metal detectors; not the back scatter machines).

Okay, so now I’m through and I get my currency, which is cool, and I leave. No worries. I’m ready now for the next trip through security, which will be when I’m actually flying out.

Security, Take Two.

Newark is a bit crazier than our local airport. It’s bigger. It’s enormously bigger. The parking is color-coded. It’s expensive. My husband and kids leave me at the really long line to check my bag, and this is where I meet a lovely Scottish couple heading home to Edinburgh. We chat, we check our bags, we leave our bags in a corral where anyone can take them, but alas, that is a different story that I may or may not get to later on.

I’m looking for security now. Once I’m through security, even though I’m two hours early (the recommended time for international flights), I want to get through security and then pretend to relax. They have shops and a place to buy drinks and bathrooms on the other side of security. It’s really like a whole other world and I’m kind of looking forward to that part of this adventure. After all, eating and shopping isn’t anxiety laden like going through a metal detector.

I know I’m ready for security this time. I grab my bin. I take off my shoes. I very knowledgably explain to the German lady behind me about the shoes and the jacket, which I’ve laid under my bag in the bin. I give a quick look to Bob and send him and my other bags through.

As soon as I heard it, I knew it was me.

“Bag check.”

My heart began to race, and my mind was repeating over and over again, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, the laptop.”

I not only left the laptop in the bag (they must be taken out and put in a separate bin), but I also forgot the bag of liquids in the carry-on. Bob was the least of my problems, although I’m sure that after the nonsense that was the laptop/liquids, Bob would have kept me off the plane.

I apologized. I got eye-rolls times two. I did feel bad, but they really should be more instructional. I’m a first time flyer for all practical purposes, and I was in the first time flyer lane, but apparently those lane distinctions don’t really mean anything. I get through, but my heart is still racing, and believe it or not, the first thing I did was slip Bob in my pocket and then tie my shoes.

Security, Take Three.

At the end of my trip, upon leaving Manchester Airport, I, of course, went through security. This time, I was determined to be successful. I had put all of my liquids in the checked bag, and this bag did not go into the corral available to any passer-by. All I had was toothpaste in the plastic baggie in my carry-on. I remembered the laptop and even had the carry-on partially unzipped so that I would remember to remove it from the bag. I had asked the first security person if we’re supposed to take our shoes off, and they said no. I threw away my bottle of soda (500ml – too large to carry through.) I was home-free. The man asked for my passport. No problem. I put everything in the bins. I walked through the detector, and…

Beep.

Oh, no, I didn’t.

I looked at the security woman, mouth agape, thinking, “What did I do to deserve this?”

They move me just slightly out of the way, ask me to put my arms out (like a cross) and then a woman security officer starts patting me down. (Wasn’t I put behind a screen? No, I was not. She didn’t even say anything except to extend my arms. She really should have bought me drinks.) I was lucky I didn’t take a step back in startlement. I also now need to take off my shoes and they pass through a separate scanner. That was it really. I think it was actually my passport that set it off – all that new technology crammed into that little book. I hadn’t carried it through any of the other metal detectors. I always replaced it into my purse when it was returned to me.

Now I know for my next trip, I will either sail through or be arrested and my best friend will have to rescue me from a federal prison.

You will rescue me, won’t you?

Here are some hints that I discovered, and not just because of my mistakes.

1.       Keep your pockets empty, including money and change. It’s just easier to get through security and then put that stuff into your pockets or just leave it in your pocketbook or briefcase.

2.       Know that in the US, you’ll need to remove your jacket, shoes and belts.

3.       Don’t wear clunky, metallic jewelry unless you really do want to get friendly with the security officers. Going, I had a really nice necklace, but I put it in my purse until I was through and then I put it on my neck.

4.       Put your ID/passport away in your purse before you walk through the metal detector. There is also a detector that blows air on you. I did not go through that one (by choice).

5.       Your laptop needs to be out of your bag and in its own bin (apart from your shoes and purse, etc.)

6.       Your purse goes in a bin. Your carry-on does not.

7.       The liquids need to be in a bin (with your other stuff except your laptop.) The TSA in the US allow 3 ounce containers inside a quart sized zipper bag. I found Ziploc brand travel bags. I think they were $0.99 for seven bags. I was also surprised by the amount of little bottles that fit in there. On the way over, my liquid bag was filled with things I would normally keep in my purse. Liquid, for TSA purposes includes gels and creams as well as solids (like deodorant) in addition to actual liquids. It’s 3-1-1. 3.4 ounce containers, 1 quart bag, 1 bag per passenger. I found the TSA website to be very useful.

8.       The UK requirement to return is slightly less, so check with the airport security or online for the place you’ll be leaving from, or check your liquids in your suitcase.

9.       Do not joke in the line. It annoys people, and you really don’t want to annoy security.

If I think of anything else, I’ll be sure to add it with another posting.

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