Airport Security

Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

What are we really taking off?

Greetings dear reader to a confused Sunday here. We’ve had sunshine, we’ve had showers, I’m expecting a windstorm at any moment. It’s like a James Taylor song.

We’re up to blog #67 today. I’d like to chat today about the impact that airport security has had on the fashion world. Well, not so much the fashion world, but us as people who wear fashion. Or clothes, which may or may not be fashionable.

Shoe me!… The first contribution that airport security has made is that we are now a lot more aware of the kind of socks and hosiery that people wear beneath their shoes. I feel sorry for the airport security people, having to handle our stinky shoes. But there we all are – taking off our shoes and surrendering our stockinged feet to airport flooring.

Particular shoes are singled out, I’ve noticed – it has to do with the heel. I’m not entirely certain, but particular heels are more conducive to holding any number of ingredients capable of being mixed with certain toothpastes, hair gels and liquids to form a combustible liquid, mixed up in the plane’s loo.

I wore a pair of high heeled boots on an international flight to San Francisco once. Including the two stopovers I had between Brisbane and San Francisco, and the multiple security points I had to endure because I was not carrying US identity documentation, I took those boots off and put them back on a total of six times at airport security stations. I wanted to surrender them to an airport bin by the time I arrived.

Press me! The other thing I’ve noticed at airport security are the wands they wave over a “randomly selected” passenger, which they then test for traces of something. Explosive particles or dandruff, perhaps. You know, if they made those devices heated, one could get a nice press of one’s jacket and pants while we were at it. Then we’d arrive at our destinations not only declared a safe traveller, but freshly pressed as well. We might not mind being “randomly selected”, either, if this little laundry service was included, mightn’t we?

Just on this, I was once “randomly selected” at Heathrow to be patted down. I was a bit tired and grumpy from a long flight (I think it was from Minneapolis) so wasn’t too keen on it. But you have to be courteous, or at least not rude, to airport security people, don’t you? They can hold you for the length of time a root canal takes with no provocation or explanation. So, you don’t want to annoy them.

Anyway, I was randomly selected to be patted down. Well, this very tall and rather attractive security woman did the patting. It was actually quite relaxing, and quite intimate in a pervy kind of way. I stood there with my feet hip-width apart and my arms out to my sides. She ran her hands from my shoulders to my fingertips and back again underneath my arms. Then down my ribcage and across my stomach. Down the outside of my legs and up the, er, inside (stopping at a discrete non-body-contact point). I felt like we should have perhaps exchanged phone numbers after it. That, or asked if she did full body massage. She had a nice touch. For a security person.

Strip it!  The other thing that you sometimes have to do at airport security is remove various clothing items that could be considered a danger. I went through Sydney Airport security recently and honestly, I’ve had showers where I’ve taken off less clothing.  Take belts. I was travelling through Sydney airport to Melbourne earlier this year, and was in a rush. I had my carry-on bag and seemingly every other bag in New South Wales with me – I felt like a sherpa. I forgot about my belt, and went through the thing which then beeped like crazy. So, I dashed back through (“sorry, sorry”-ing the people behind me, waiting to go through the thing), threw my belt on the conveyor belt, dashed back through the thing, which did not bleep. I then picked up my bags and ran to the gate.

Oh darn! It was only when I was on the plane that I had a sudden shocking awareness – I’d left my belt at airport security! Oh, no! I may or may not have said “oh darn”. The vowel “o” was certainly involved, and the final word may have had four letters in it.

Y’see, this was no ordinary black leather belt. It was a very fancy pants animal print “bling” belt that I’d bought in San Francisco in November 2009. It was not only an expensive belt, a belt I loved, but it was the belt that had caused me to realise that I had to stop spending. And hence, precipitated this very challenge I am now writing to you about from post #67.

So it was a meaningful belt. Well, I was sitting next to this rather seat-filling gent who preceded to tell me all about every single corporate training event he’d ever attended, and the unique contribution he had made to each and every one of them (I had foolishly told him that I was on my way to Melbourne to run a corporate training workshop). I tried to pay attention, I tried to paste a look on my face that indicated I was vaguely interested. But I was really thinking about my belt.

When I arrived in Melbourne, I bolted to the Baggage Services people, who sanguinely told me that if I rang this number, my belt would be put in a bag and sent to Melbourne, wherein I could pick it up at the airport on my return. This turned out to be utter crap, as I learned when I phoned that number.

It was a recorded message that informed me that they only worked between the hours of 7.00 and 8.15am, and the only time you could pick up lost items was between the hours of 1.00 and 1.07pm. Ok, that’s not exactly true, but the hours they worked were similarly unhelpful. I left a message, trying not to panic or repeat myself more than four times. “The belt is animal print, with these big bling-y circles, and the buckle is a big bling-y circles. and did I mention it’s animal print?“. There was just something about the Whole Thing that made me uneasy.

Ninja Julie to the rescue? Unable to be mollified by the recorded phone message, I enlisted the help of Ninja Jane, who was travelling to Melbourne the very next day. Her flight took off at 7.00am, making it very difficult for her to get to the lost’n’found department at its stated opening hours. Being a gal who’s stimulated by challenges, Ninja Jane took this as a test of her personal effectiveness, and pledged to get me my belt back.

Bzzz, bzzz. The next morning at 6.45am, my phone bzzz-bzzed to tell me a text had come in. It was from Ninja Jane – she had gotten my belt back. Unbelievable! She’d turned up to the Baggage Services counter at 6.35am, which is immediately adjacent to the Lost and Found department at Sydney Airport. There was no-one at the L’n’F, but there was a quaintly bureaucratic “service” person manning the Baggage Services counter. Ninja Jane asked the BS person when the L’n’F counter opened. 7.00am was the stern response. Knowing that she’d be ascending into the skies at that time, Ninja Jane asked if she could access the L’n’F cupboard now. No was the economical reply.

I haff vays of makingkh you…. Ninja Jane then proceeded to apply verbal Chinese water torture to the BS person, saying that a phone message had been left on the L’n’F hotline, that she could describe the item in detail, that it was a small item, that she was about to board a plane to the outer Hebrides and may not return for years upon which time the woman finally said “AWRIGHT! What does it look like?”. A full description then passed Ninja Jane’s lips, and the BS woman retreated into the L’n’F cupboard to see if said item was, indeed, in residence.

She returned and pronounced that yes, the animal print bling-y belt was there. But she couldn’t give it to Ninja Jane because the L’n’F people didn’t get there until 7.00am. By this time, Ninja Jane’s flight was being called. More verbal Chinese water torture was applied, which yielded the surprising result of the BS woman going back into the L’n’F cupboard, retrieving animal print, bling-y belt, exiting the room and throwing the belt at Ninja Julie.

Yes, she threw it at her. Ninja Jane actually had to catch it. We could wax lyrical for several more minutes about the appropriateness or otherwise of the BS person’s behaviour. But let’s not, because the story has such a happy ending. I got my belt back! My beautiful, expensive, meaningful belt.

Is the story finished yet? So, there’s 3 minutes of reading time that you’ll never get back. I know. But it’s such a great example of the impact that airport security has had on our travelling lives.

Remember the days….I love watching movies from the 1970s – it’s one of my favourite eras. What’s so charming and nostalgic about some of them are the scenes set in airports. With people going from check-in to gate with nary a stop in between, except to the restroom or public telephone. There’s no airport security. There’s no laptops at all, let alone any to be taken out of their cases and placed in large Tupperware boxes for screening for last year’s version of Windows. There’s no “random selecting” of dark-haired and swarthy male passengers for additional security screening. All that was in front of us. Including those of us still in primary school (which I’m compelled to tell you that I was, in the 1970s).

Has it really? Yes, Chuck, I’m afraid it has. Airport security has changed the way we travel, it’s impact is indelible. It’s also changed how we feel about public undressing and personal modesty. Right?

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