Airport Insecurity

Ah, travel. There is something rather special about travelling to far distant places, mystic islands, historic ancient cities, new people, new places and the wonders of discovery. But there is something else about travelling that those who have not experienced it, should know about, and that is airport security, passport control and the pleasures that await you.

Travel and Passport control

Now for those who have never travelled and experienced this phenomenon, let me tell you about it, and even pop in a couple of things that have happened to me. In these days of terrorism and the heightened security scares worldwide, it is obvious that airport security must be tightened up, it’s a fact of life and we have to get used to it. Passport control is really something else, and let me tell you of a time I had at OR Tambo one evening. Tambo was going through some alterations and renovations, it was a Friday evening and as most people know, Friday evening is not the very best time to travel out of a busy airport, and with all the work going on, it was absolutely chaotic. As I shuffled along in the queue heading towards passport control, I had a chance to look at the officials behind the desks to see if I could guess which one I would get. Finally, I arrived at a desk manned by a young, exceedingly bored looking man.

Flung it over his shoulder

“Good evening,” I ventured, hoping that being pleasant and smiling would ease my passage through this choke-point. Not a bit of it.

“Passport,” he snapped, snatching it out of my hand faster than a piano falling down a mine-shaft, so fast in fact, he actually flung it over his shoulder, and it landed on the floor a couple of yards away. With a grunt, and with as much pride as he could muster, he got up and retrieved my document. He then slumped himself back in his chair and started to page through the passport page by page.

“Where is your photograph?” he growled, staring hard at the first page.

“Inside the back, on page two,” I replied, sensing that keeping my cool at this point would be a good idea. The official grunted again and flipped back to the page where there was an image of an old looking man which loosely resembled me on a bad day.

You may be a fugitive fleeing the country

Passport-man looked hard at me and said: “Where is your ID book?” I handed it to him saying: “Why do you need it, as passports supersede all other identity documents?”

“You may be a fugitive fleeing the country,” he spat at me, took a cursory glance at it and flung the two documents back at me with such force, they landed on the floor behind me. As I bent to pick them up, he was already clicking his fingers for his next victim.

Now my point is this, why do these people have to be so bloody rude? Is there a course that they have to take to enable them to become as unpleasant as possible before being unleashed onto an unsuspecting travelling public? Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just have one of those faces where just one look will change someone’s day for the worst, and they decide to take it out on me. Just a thought. But it must be far worse for incoming tourists when confronted by such people, I mean, they are only coming into the country to spend lots of Euros, dollars and pounds, so why bother to be nice to them? Rude passport officials could do more damage to the countries they serve than you could possibly imagine. First impressions are so important. And it’s not only South Africa, I could tell you a story about Spain, but that’s for another time.

Travel and Security Screenings

And of course, there is security screening. What a joy it is to go through one of those checks, first you have to make sure you have none of the banned items listed on signs on the wall near the security check area, funny it doesn’t mention AK 47s or nuclear warheads or anything like that. Then you have to dismantle yourself, removing all metal objects from your pockets, pens, scissors, machetes, cell phones wallets, knives, battle axes and belts, and with your trousers now heading south at a rate of knots, stumble into the chamber where they body scan you. It makes me wonder why they take knives off people about to board a plane, because as soon as you settle down in your seat the crew immediately issues everyone with knives with your first meal. This body scanning is quite unnerving as I think you know by now, the x-ray machine strips you of all the dignity you may have been able to retain, with your trousers down by your knees. On the scanner, the image leaves nothing to the imagination whatsoever. The official who has to observe all these naked bodies all day long must surely start to develop some form of physiological problem sooner or later, it could even affect their sexual orientation. (Maybe this is a training course for pathological rapists). And if they see something suspicious, the other pleasure the passenger has to endure is the search room, where you are left with absolutely no doubt that that they consider you to be extremely dangerous, so normally three people are present while you are ritually humiliated. Oh, the joys of travel. You are not sure whether they are looking for drugs, bombs or they just don’t believe that your boobs/appendages are really that big/small and they just want to see for themselves. The mind boggles.

And don’t forget that rather sweaty looking man who asked me, just before I went into security, to take a package onto the plane for him, now that wasn’t suspicious was it? Then you start to wonder if he actually did get on the plane. I didn’t want to be rude to the man, but I also didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on Devil’s Island.

Travel always brings out the best and worst in people, but the worst always seems to find me. No doubt about it, I just have one of those faces.

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