(Originally posted on 13 February 2011 at my old Jack of Kent site here.)

(11 April 2012 – the post below has now been featured on the Bruce Schneier security blog, and I can confirm this is a faithful account of what happened to me when I flew from Heathrow to a middle eastern country early last year. The security officer in question and his manager were employed by the airline, not the airport.)

 

 

Late one recent Saturday evening, I am standing at a departure gate at Heathrow Airport. It is the furthest gate from the main terminal, and I am flying on the last plane out.

 

By now, it is just the passengers and the airline’s own staff.  The passengers are having the final passport and boarding pass check before getting onboard: a formality after a great deal of security and bag searching.

 

Everyone is a little tired; the rest of the airport looks dark and closed down for the night.

 

“Excuse me, sir. We would like to do a search?”

“Pardon?”

“We would like you to give us your handbag and step this way.”

“OK. It is a manbag, or hand luggage. But not really a handbag.”

“Yes, sir. This way.”

 

My hand luggage is taken off to be searched again. I am now the last passenger at the gate. The flight is due to leave in about ten minutes.

“Sir, could you go behind the screen.”

There is a screen in the corner of a kiosk, in the opposite corner to where my bag is now being searched and unpacked. The young security official from the airline follows me.

 

“Sir, can you take your jacket off.”

“OK.” I take off my jacket.

“And your shoes.”

I take off my shoes.

My shoes are looked at very carefully.  I think of the shoe bomber, who also lived near Bromley.  I begin to wonder if they are profiling people from urban north Kent.

 

“Sir, your trousers.”

“Pardon?”

“Sir, please take your trousers off.”

 

A pause.

 

“No.”

 

“No?”

The security official clearly was not expecting that response.

 

He begins to look like he doesn’t know what to do, bless him.

 

“You have no power to require me to do that. You also haven’t also given any good reason. I am sure any genuine security concerns you have can be addressed in other ways. You do not need to invade my privacy in this manner.”

 

A pause.

 

“I think you probably need to get your manager, don’t you?”.

I am trying to be helpful.

 

He nods, hesitantly, and goes to get his manager, a middle-aged chap in a brown baggy suit.

 

“Hello sir.”

“Hello.” I smile.

“You won’t take your trousers off?”

“No. It will be embarrassing and humiliating. You can’t require me to do so, and you have no good reason to ask.”

 

A pause.

 

I smile again and nod encouragingly.

 

“Oh,” he says.

 

Another pause.

 

“Sir, there is actually no need for you to take your trousers off.”

“Thank you. I thought not.”

 

I put on my jacket and shoes.

“But sir, there is a problem with your handbag.”

 

I pause.

 

This is the Edith Evans moment I have waited for all my life.

 

“My manbag?”

 

“Yes sir. It will have to travel separately.”

“Why?

“We have concerns.”

 

I think of those who have teased me about my manbag, but I guess their doubts about me are not the same concerns as this security manager.

 

“You think my manbag could be dangerous?”

“It will need to go separately.”

He gives me a plastic bag with what had been the contents of my manbag.

“In the hold?”

“No, too late. It will have to travel business class.”

“My manbag is going business class?”

“Yes, sir. You can be reunited at the destination.”

 

Later I think I should have offered to swap, but I was too stunned to be so opportunistic.

 

“This way for the plane.”

I walk with the manager, me with my new carrier bag, him with my empty mangbag. We go down the slope to the aircraft.

 

“I bet this makes you feel safer?” he says.

“Actually, it doesn’t. Either security required me to take my trousers off, or it does not. Either my bag is too unsafe to travel, or it is not. I think this just shows bad decision-making. Bad decision-making by security does not make me feel safe.”

 

A pause. I am hoping he is thinking about my sensible, heart-felt words.

 

We get to the aircraft. The chief steward takes my manbag for its trip by business class. I go into economy class: I am stared at as the one who may have delayed the plane.

 

I find my seat. The chap next to me asks what happened.

“Oh, just security stuff.”

“No worries. It makes you feel safer, doesn’t it.”

 

COMMENTS MODERATION

I have deliberately not named the airline.

No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.

70 Responses to My Trousers and Airport Security

  • Pete, the one from Gloucester. says:

    jobsworths
    There are very strict rules, but the inability to apply them appropriately is where it all goes disastrously wrong. If you’d been in America your refusal to drop your trousers would have been interpreted as a sign of guilt and you would most likely have been detained, Americans don’t take their sense of humour to work.

    • Michael says:

      Well, I’m an American, and had the TSA asked me to remove my trousers, i would have refused. Moreover, if they caused me to miss my flight over it, I would raise all holy hell about it. Security theatre is useless and this sort of thing is security theatre at its worst.

    • Joel says:

      How right you are Pete. Sadly, Americans are able to handle less and less sarcasm, especially when it comes to “serious matters” like flying. What is worse, our invention of security theatre has accomplishing naught.

      When flying to Mexico a few years ago, I took a bag I had used to move some things from one apartment to my new one. I went through the body scanners, all the new technology that we have, and felt like everything (including myself) had been looked at. Upon arrival to Mexico (as Mexico City was a connecting flight), I went through another security checkpoint. Using basic metal detectors, they found a utility knife in my carry-on bag. Upon discovery, and seeing how shocked I was and how afraid I was (and attempting to explain myself in broken Spanish), the security team laughed, said they’d need to take the knife, but I could go on my way.

      Had that happened in America, I certainly would have been detained and possibly arrested. Thank goodness we’re quite inept at our jobs.

  • Richard Whitehouse says:

    Security Theatre – Airport security is simply the most obvious example.

    The UKBA, the TSA and their compatriots are one of the most ineffective pieces of security infrastructure ever.

  • Dr Aust says:

    Re Pete from Gloucester’s comment: I remember, at the height of the security mania a few years ago, hearing the following story from a German scientific colleague. He swore it was accurate. A middle-aged Professor from his German University had been en route to a conference in the US, and was standing in an immigration queue at a US airport. Security officials started sorting the line of those waiting into people of what one might call ‘Middle Eastern appearance’ and others. The Professor commented, in the hearing of a security official.

    “So they did once in Germany with the Jews.’

    Several hours later, most of which he had spent sat in his underwear in a detention room being questioned by security personnel, the middle-aged German Professor was deported and put on the first available flight back to Germany.

    Quite how that made anyone feel safer one struggles to work out.

    • Valentine A. says:

      Sorry, but I find this highly doubtful. I hate the TSA with passion (and can’t wait for them to disappear) but one thing they DON’T do is profile Middle Easterners. I mean maybe they do but they try to do it very covertly. And for each Middle Easterner they pull out of the line they will pull out 10 or even 20 non-Middle-Easterners. So this separation in the story is very unlikely. America is a very politically correct country. And while ethnic profiling certainly takes place it’s never this obvious.

      Also the underwear part is somewhat questionable. Again, the TSA probably has some authority for a strip search but needs to show probable cause. Even the enhanced pat downs were only instituted in 2010, and since this story takes place “at the height of the security mania” (which I’d say was in 2002-2003) uttering a phrase like that was hardly the grounds to demand somebody to undress, let alone keep them that way for hours.

      The only person who I know was deported straight from the airport back to her country was my friend from Japan – but it only happened because she didn’t have American visa. If this professor had a visa I’m not too convinced that the security personnel at an airport had the authority to deport him. They could possibly detain him until somebody from the State department showed up and questioned the security personnel about the cause of this person’s detainment. At which point the official would probably informed them of their abuse of power and let the good professor be on his merry way into the US.

      Not saying it didn’t happen and not saying the security in the US airports isn’t bullshit… but find the story very hard to believe.

      • Denver says:

        I believe just about any stupid story about the TSA these days…

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/british-tourists-deported-for-tweeting_n_1242073.html

      • Joe P. says:

        Did you read Dr. Aust’s post? The German professor was standing in an immigration queue, not at a TSA screening checkpoint. By “security officials,” he doubtless meant ICE Officers. It’s been settled law for quite some time that ICE has vast powers at customs entry facilities to search and detain anyone, citizen or not, in order to carry out their duties. They can strip you, seize property, deny entry and deport you. ICE absolutely does use “racial profiling” at customs entry points, as they should. The appalling part of Dr. Aust’s story is ICE’s over-reaction to a bit of sarcastic humor by a respectable citizen of a friendly country, not that ICE has those powers.

  • SimonB says:

    I remember back in the 80s my boss, a molecular biologist of East-Asian descent, was on his way to the US to visit another lab and present a paper at a conference. He had small ampoules of our study DNA in bacteriophages, a kind of virus. The US customs searched him and asked what they were. “Some viruses” he replied. They nearly jumped out of their skin that a Chinaman carrying viruses had got so far, but saw sense quite quickly once they had checked his credentials and let him through. Would that happen today?

  • PaulM says:

    I travelled from Slovakia to London about 2 years ago. I’m an engineer and had checked in my tools, which prior to my boarding had to be unpacked inspected and repacked.
    I removed my shoes and belt.
    I had the handle of my laptop bag swiped and was required to turn my laptop on to show it was real presumably.
    I was not permitted to take my bottle of water but it was ok, because I could buy exactly the same unopened bottle 10 metres from the security control centre in the departure lounge.

    I arrived in London and while retrieving my phone from *my* manbag, cut myself of the large aluminium handled stanley knife I’d forgotten to put in my toolbag.

    Makes you feel safer, doesn’t it?

  • Did you ever find out what the “concerns” about your bag were? Will you ever risk traveling with it again?

    wg

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  • B Henderson says:

    Wendy, if he travels with it 25 more times, I’m sure that it will not be questioned. His shoes, his belt, and extra laptop battery — THOSE will be questioned and he’ll be held up while his time is wasted with those items.

  • Worm says:

    They had ‘concerns’ about your bag, but still put it on the same flight?

    Yeah, ultra-safe.

    Idiots.

    • David S. says:

      Ah yes, but they put it in Business Class! Clearly it was travelling economy that made it dangerous. Try it next time your company wants to fly you somewhere — “But my hand-luggage is too dangerous to travel economy!”

      • AdamF says:

        Well, apparently it’s safe on a lot of flights for the business class passengers to have metal cutlery!

      • Ni2 says:

        They don’t want the handbag to affect the Economy class passengers – they are simply innocent peasants. They want the handbag to travel in business class so it gets rid of the greedy capitalists. I wonder what they expected the handbag to do – grow a pair of arms and toss food around on the plane?

  • powder_residue says:

    When flying from US-city1 to US-city2, my laptop accidentally set off the bomb detector. The technician called over some (armed) police officers, they came over to me, and he said the most terrifying thing I have ever heard in an airport. “Excuse me sir, but your laptop has set off our explosives detector, can you please explain this?”

    Long story short, they let me go in about 20 minutes, after checking ID and calling my boss (on the number I provided!). *No* extra security scans, no pat downs, no man with rubber gloves, not even searching my luggage. I get to my destination, and are unpacking, and I realized I had left my screwdriver set, with approx 20cm blades, in my carry-on, in the pocket next to the laptop.

    • Jörg Maaß says:

      A similar thing happened to a manager of ours, who flew in from the States with one of the brand new models of laptops we had just released. When he showed up two days late, he told us that his laptop had set off some chemical detection system in Frankfurt and that they had taken his laptop, had blown it up and had detained him as a suspect. It turned out that some chemical in the casing triggered the detection system. Digital actually published a customer warning to not take this type of laptop with you during air travel…

  • Paul, From Essex (but not like so you'd notice) says:

    During the “no liquids” fad, I ‘smuggled’ a load of contact lens cleaning fluid through airport security on a flight to Dubai, by the fiendish method of completely forgetting I had it in my man’s handbag.

  • William Hewstone says:

    When travelling abroad with a rifle club I used to shoot for, we carefully packed out 12 rifles and probably 3000 rounds of ammunition into steel containers, padlocked and secured. Bolts had to be seperate from rifles, and rifles seperate from ammunition. The rounds were counted, counted again, checked and finally sealed and we all had background checks etc etc etc before they could let us near a plane. We discovered on arrival at our destination, unpacking one of the kit bags, full of clothing and gloves, that a box of 50 .22 long rifle bullets, very much live (we went on to shoot those rounds in a competition) and very much unaccounted for had been totally ignored by airport security who, one would have thought, would scan the bags of a group flying with enough weaponry to launch a small war….

    makes you feel safer, doesn’t it?

    • Valentine A. says:

      How about that famous story from a few years ago about marines flying back to the States from Iraq or Afghanistan with their automatic rifles but they were not allowed to bring scissors on the plane? :)

      • Peter says:

        My son, deployed with the US Army to Iraq, carrying his weapon (but no ammunition), was required to pass said weapon through the x-ray machine. This, on a chartered flight, whose only passengers were the members of his unit, headed to Iraq.

        On his safe return to the US, same deal, except he was forbidden to bring his bottle of water on board the aircraft.

        Up until a year ago, members of the military, in uniform, were required to remove their combat boots so they might be x-rayed. I actually saw this happen to one soldier. Thankfully, someone has finally come to their senses and children under 12 and members of the military in uniform no longer need to remove their footwear.
        But the rest of the silliness continues.

  • Tarus says:

    Oh, this is a lovely story, and I’m happy you stood your ground.

    I travel a lot (I’m writing this from an airport lounge) and I do my best to avoid LHR because of a similar experience, although not as personal as yours.

    I was flying to Lisbon from the US. I arrived at Terminal 3 and took the bus to Terminal 5, just to find out that while the majority of continental BA flights leave from Terminal 5, those to Portugal are back at Terminal 3.

    When I arrive back at my Terminal, a sharp-eyed security guard notices that I have a bottle of liquid that is 111 mL, over 10% more than is “safe”. He is very excited and points it out.

    I explain that it is a doctor-prescribed sterile saline solution for my eyes. I point out that it is still hermetically sealed and I also point out the “TSA Approved” sticker on the bottle. This doesnt sway him, so I ask to speak to his supervisor.

    I’m led to a counter and behind it sits a rather froglike woman who refuses to stand even though I am towering over her on my side of the counter (I don’t usually make fun of people’s appearance but I think it helps set the stage). I repeated my story about the saline solution, adding that as I’ve aged I’m required to use a preservative-free solution or my eyes get extremely irritated. I again pointed out that is was stil factory sealed, but she insisted that I not be allowed to take it on board. She suggested that I go down to Boots and purchase a smaller bottle, to which I repeat that it is a “sterile” solution and it wouldn’t do me much good to transfer it to a non-sterile bottle. I use words like “medicine”. I offer to pour out the offending 11 ml but even that request is denied. I ask why, and I’m told that the larger bottle could be used for “mixing”. When I point out that Boots sells a number of larger bottles that would be better suited for the purpose, I’m told that I will under no circumstances be allowed to take this bottle on the plane.

    The TSA in the US can be bad, but the folks at LHR can be downright insane. I’ve traveled, literally, all over the world with that bottle and this is the only place I’ve had a problem (if anyone else notices they are fine when I explain what it is). So now I fly to Frankfurt unless I’m actually doing business in the UK. It’s like those quiet kids in school who always offered to take names when the teacher left the room have been given a little bit of power and are determined to exercise it.

    • Kay Shapero says:

      Let me guess – she wore pink and had photos of kittens on her desk?

      (Sigh – petty Hitlers, they do get into the worst possible positions.)

  • Magnus says:

    I think your poor manbag may have been used as a mule for something illicit. The trouser thing would have been a diversion for the switch.

    Or maybe the security guys were simply just, extremely kinky perverts?

  • Eric says:

    I flew out of Heathrow in 1992; it was the end of a long summer trip to London before my final year of High School. As such, I looked a bit silly (cut-off jeans, big poofy hat).

    At the time, there were guards in the airport with actual submachine guns. Mean looking things. One wanted to look under my hat. He used the muzzle of the gun to lift my hat. I didn’t move a muscle during the entire interaction, and nearly fainted afterward.

    He didn’t say a thing about the salt shaker I was wearing as a necklace (again, remember I was 16 and silly), despite its obviously white-powder filling (it was just salt, but still). Made me feel all safe and stuff.

  • Magnus says:

    Or indeed the security guys were just extremely simple, baffled by the perverted and kinky security obsessed system they operate within.

  • Jon Doeringer says:

    I work for the US government. Still, the floppy mustache always got me a free ‘random’ inspection, in the late 90′s. On the final flight of a couple of months on the road, Security wouldn’t let my bottle of laundry detergent clear (tho it was fine the 7 previous flights…). ‘Sir, this contains BLEACH’! the guy says, holding it like it’s about to go off. I look at the label – it says ‘bleach-like cleaning’, in big letters. I also show him my ID badge. Not that it should matter, but it should lend some legitimacy. Besides, in the world of civilian Federal employees, I OUTRANK HIM! (tho, not at the airport… I guess ‘outrank’ means ‘out-earn’ ;>) He reads it, reads the ingredient label, but insists it’s a danger. All I want to do is get home. But I hate being wasteful – and watch this oaf thwart me. I have an hour before the flight boards, and I ask for the supervisor. He gives me the same story. We ‘discus’ this for 20 minutes. I’m in no hurry, and if I have to lose my bottle, at least I’ll get a story out of it! Other ‘officials’ come and go.
    In the end, they agree bleach isn’t an ingredient, and it is allowed in baggage.
    (and NO – I don’t feel safer. A couple dozen guys can go to any gun show in Georgia and buy machine guns. Heading to different cities, they can spray a plane or two on approach or takeoff, drive away in their stolen cars, and vanish. And these terrorists can be domestic or foreign. We have a country-full of the disgruntled.

    • whamprod says:

      (and NO – I don’t feel safer. A couple dozen guys can go to any gun show in Georgia and buy machine guns. Heading to different cities, they can spray a plane or two on approach or takeoff, drive away in their stolen cars, and vanish. And these terrorists can be domestic or foreign. We have a country-full of the disgruntled.

      Re: Domestic Terrorists….please be so kind as to provide proof. You come off like the typical arrogant federal government functionary to has forgotten that his job is to serve The People, not the other way around. If you don’t want to be afraid of your fellow citizens with guns, don’t be an asshole about working for the government. BFD. It doesn’t make you any better than the rest of us. Yes, we have a country full of the disgruntled…..who are mostly mad as hell at the federal government and its overreaching and grasping after our freedoms. TSA and that toad Janet Reno are only part of the problem. But despite our allegedly easy access to “machine guns” I don’t recall ONE-SINGLE-STORY about hillbillies with their rootin’ tootin’ machine guns shooting hapless airliners and driving off in stolen cars. That is complete and utter bullshit, and you know it. NOBODY buy a “machine gun” in the U.S. without jumping through a whole lot of federal hoops, submitting paperwork that can take a year or more to process, paying an exorbitant tax to the BATF, and then being required to submit on any day, at any time, to an unannounced inspection of their home by BATF agents to verify that the “machine gun” in question is properly under the owner’s control. You have just repeated a blatant lie for the benefit of a people who have already given up all of their firearms rights, and many of whom are wishing they had them back as their own out of control government grows ever more intrusive, and crime rises out of control. (48% of Brits want to get out of the UK
      Shock Sun survey shows almost half are ready to emigrate overseas
      ) Please don’t try to pin your terrorist fantasies on American citizens, just because we choose to exercise a constitutional right.

      I say Thank God that we have a 2nd Amendment, EXACTLY for the purpose envisaged by our Founders—that of giving The People a defense against a despotic government. Not hunting. Not self-defense. Those are certainly legitimate reasons for possessing a firearm, but they are NOT the reason the 2nd Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights.

      No, I don’t feel safer with all the TSA theater (to which I will be subjected myself in 10 days). But I sure don’t feel safer from my own government either. People with guns don’t frighten me. Government employees who are afraid of citizens guns are what frighten me. You sense pent-up hostility from me? I’m just one of about 150 million who feel the same way. Stop bitching about how scary it is to do your goddam job, which MY taxes pay for, when the government YOU work for is the problem….NOT ITS CITIZENS!

      Putz.

      • hmm says:

        your credibility is weakened by the content of your rant. Janet Reno left the DOJ prior to 9/11 – TSA didn’t even exist when she was a part of the United States federal government. I would bet, given the emphasis that Bill Clinton’s staff had placed on Osama bin Laden, 9/11 might not have happened without the change of administration. It was the 2nd amendment hero, Dick Cheney who dropped the ball on the Islamic terrorists.

        And, as I recall, it was a sort-of hillbilly who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. Thought he was defending America from something or another… He didn’t have a machine gun, it’s true, but he figured out how to use fertilizer to do the job.

        But that misses the point of Jon Doeringer’s post. All that security theater does is alienate the public, it doesn’t engage them and it disempowering people makes the frustrated (and tend to go off on anti-government rants. Ironic that).

  • Infrequent traveller says:

    Went to Innsbruck last year for a skiing trip. No problems at LGW, but on the way home Innsbruck confiscated my accidentally included (husband’s) set of compasses in my pencil case. I suppose I could have used it to cause a security problem, but LGW missed it. I know it wouldn’t have made any difference if it had been confiscated in the UK, but it would have made me feel safer.

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  • Jake says:

    You can’t buy machine guns from a gun show in Georgia, Jon; they’re regulated under the National Firearms Act, passed in the 1930s. There’s this whole Kafkaesque process you need to go through, and a fixed and dwindling number of them in circulation, and so forth.

    As to the story — well, I have a feeling that in the USA, once they decided they wanted your pants, they wouldn’t have let you past security in any case, no matter how ridiculous the demand was.

  • Gloria Navarro says:

    Heathrow airport, Terminal 3, March 1st 2012 at about 4.30 pm. I was travelling to Madrid because my father had just died. I am a small 47-year-old lady.

    When I went through security, I had absolutely no metal on me or anything at all that could possibly bleep. But, for some reason, the machine did. Normally, in that case they search you either manually or with a hand-held detector, which is humiliating enough, but this time in front of me was the full body scanner. A big transparent cylinder that had not one, but several screens showing to the public all the images of people going through. I mean large crystal-clear images of people stark naked.

    I tried to explain that it was against all my principles and my Roman Catholic upbringing, that I didn’t want to see anybody or be seen in that state, and asked if they could offer me an alternative way. They called some sort of supervisor, who turned out to be a giant of a bully and shouted at me that if I didn’t stop crying he couldn’t understand my rubbish English, and that if I didn’t go inside immediately I wouldn’t fly. I will never, ever forget that beast of a man. They took away all my things, I was stripped of my shoes and most of my clothes, and forced brutally into the machine. Then I was ordered to raise my arms and spread my legs wide open. The scan was taken, but apparently the brutes hadn’t had enough fun with me, because they ordered me out and back in again. After that, the ran a very strange machine several times up and down my naked legs and feet (in case I was hiding something under the skin or maybe inside my femur), all of these things, of course, in full view of everybody. I can’t remember much more because at that point I was almost unconscious with shame, embarrassment, frustration, sadness… I collapsed on the floor, breathless, and they left me lying there. Not one person (security staff or passengers) bothered to ask “are you all right?” When I managed to get up I was lucky to at least find my things that had been abandoned nearby by the security people and any thieves could have taken. If this happens when you travel within the EU, I can’t imagine what they do to you if you go to the US…

    Congratulations, politicians and Heathrow security, brilliant job. Well done for achieving the terrorists’ aim, which is precisely to cause disruption, pain and suffering, especially to honest, innocent western people.

    Thank you, UK, because after 7 years of bringing wealth into this country and being a model citizen, this is what I get. Police paranoia, an awful nightmare, the evidence that people’s security is in totally incompetent hands and also the certainty that if I’d been a dark, bearded man, or a muslim woman wrapped in black they would have let me go straight through, no problems, no questions. Cowards!

    What I will never understand is how everybody seems really happy going through a machine that exposes them (and/or their mothers, and/or their grandfathers…) both to radiation and to public shame. I can’t think of a more unfair and senseless attack on basic human rights. Oh, but it’s OK, because we all feel very, very, very safe, don’t we? After all, what are the chances of being blown to pieces on a bus or the tube in London…?

    • Peter Kirkham says:

      Your experience sounds appalling … But as you say it was carried out by Airport security, why do you then go on to blamw “police paranoia”? Airport security are not the police. Why blame the police for something that is nothing to do with them??

      • AJ Finch says:

        @Peter Kirkham, you are absolutely right: Police paranoia is quite different – although I’m not sure I would say if it’s better or worse!

    • Kristin Itis says:

      I have been using examples like this woman’s as proof of what I sincerely believe this security theatre is all about, nothing to do with security and everything to do with humiliation and demoralization. No one believes me when I say they care not much for the secure aspect of it and all of these back scatter machines and pants pulling is really a sinister plot to prepare us for some other horrible form of torture some time in the near future. Mark my words- I also “predicted” that iPhones would be used by the police with a new program that uses facial recognition, and it’s been done and new iPhones are going out with the MORIS technology just as I said it would. I am not a genius nor psychic. I am not going to announce or brag about “special govt clearance” or knowledge but I find that those who claim to be USG never have any tidbits or informative information to supply, maybe they are not allowed to or they don’t have any “tidbits” to give.

    • Charlie says:

      the certainty that if I’d been a dark, bearded man, or a muslim woman wrapped in black they would have let me go straight through, no problems, no questions

      This little snippet of unwarranted racism and religious bigotry really devalued your story. I was completely on your side, and outraged on your behalf… right up until you implied that this treatment would have been OK if applied to “dark” people and muslims.

      Now I’m no longer able to muster much sympathy. You want us to respect the body-shame you’ve learnt from your primitive, paedophile-sheltering cult, yet you’re comfortable with bigotry against others.

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  • John David Galt says:

    TSA “officials” are not really police officers, and had this happened here in the US, I would have arrested them.

    I don’t know if a similar ability exists in the UK (or for that matter, if your security folks are as senseless as the ones in the US; I expect yours have had a few more years to figure out what they’re doing, at least). But the public has simply got to start fighting back, literally if necessary. So long as you take it, “you’ll never get rid of the Dane.”

    • JOhn Beaty says:

      Please please do this. Good luck with it.

      (Above is sarcasm, US citizens have no power to make random arrests, but those in the “Movement” seem to believe in their own version of theater.)

    • Kristin Itis says:

      Well I don’t know if you CAN arrest them? if it is indeed unlawful, then by all means do so! And not the least bit of sarcasm here. Perhaps most people take it “lying down” therefore the abuse continues unabated. The path of least resistance, see? We MUST resist, we shall not sigh and say “..well.. okay.. if you SAY so..” I refuse to have the “back scatter”(‘bum’ scatter?) the images are graphic and quite clear and there is no way I would give nude photos to anyone let alone weirdos at the airport. If I have to go get “felt up” that would be horrible if I were a man and had a severe “gas problem” cough cough well I am not that brave nor foul to try such a thing but it would teach the feeler uppers a lesson. Also off my own topic but in 2000 I flew from Casablanca to JFK and was waved thru with 3 large bags and no pat down at 345AM by two very lazy and angry looking agents. I could have smuggled in a live monkey!

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  • Chainsawferret says:

    The TSA security theater troupe in ST Louis missed a loaded 9mm Glock magazine that had been left in the bag I normally used for my trips to the range. Had to take that bag instead because Pukey the Cat had done her usual schtick in the bag I usually travel with while packing.

  • “These aren’t the trousers you’re looking for”

    “These aren’t the trousers we’re looking for”

    Can’t believe no-one’s given you credit for your Jedi mind trick – well done!

  • DavidD46725 says:

    The only time I’ve been to Heathrow was in 1982. It was a brief stop on a school trip to Athens and Rome. When we arrived, the customs agent checking our bags just waved us through, saying “From America? You haven’t got any Argentinians in these bags have you?” (We thought he was nuts.) No search, no X-ray, nothing. Things have certainly changed.
    As an aside, the Falklands war started while we were in the air. We didn’t have any idea what was happening beyond a newspaper headline reading (in 4-inch print) OUR LOYAL SUBJECTS, WE MUST DEFEND THEM! We suddenly understood what the customs guy meant. We then spent two weeks in places where we couldn’t read the local papers, debating whether Argentina had nukes, whether the US would get involved, and where in the world the Falkland Islands were. Fun times.

  • Steve says:

    Back in the 90′s German airports came up with a brilliant idea of weighing all laptops and referencing to a manufacturers table. Any weight deviation would suggest something untoward. My laptop, when they weighed it, turned out to be underweight for some reason. Herr Security looked mighty perplexed until I reassured him that it was because the battery was flat.

  • IIIByrne says:

    My security scan story was flying out of Sydney in about 1992 on an American Airlines flight to LA, and there was a bomb “concern” such that someone decided no passenger should have in their hand luggage any tubes of gels, creams etc above 100 ml/grams on American Airlines flights that day. This was years before the toilet bomb guys and the universal ban on liquids not bought from the airport’s duty free stores, but maybe AA were ahead of their time. So they confiscated everyone’s toothpaste, handcream, KY jelly (actually I didn’t see any of that, but I wonder what they would have done) and tossed it all into three giant plastic bags and assured us we would get it back at the LA end. I gave up my toothpaste OK but I refused to surrender the prescription cream for my exzema, because I had no confidence of ever seeing it again, and I wanted it on the flight , not to mention for the week I was going to be in the USA. It was a 250g tube because eczema is an inheritable condition caused by ancestors migrating from misty sunless Ireland to Australia where the existing population of Aboriginees suggests the required skin tone is black. I’m never going to “get better”, so I buy the stuff in bulk. I argued with the guard, got bumped to his manager. The security manager, faced with a 747 load of passengers looked at my barely used 250g tube and said “there is less than 100 grams left in this, so I am permitting it on the flight” with a straight face. Smart man. I never did get my toothpaste back.

  • Cardinal Fang says:

    Flying out of Gatwick to Marrakech, the security drone wanted to confiscate my epipen as apparently dangerous and possibly a weapon.

    I pointed out that it’s a) medicine and b) will literally save my life should I have an allergic reaction, so he was deliberatly putting my life at risk.

    When he refused to back down, I asked for the supervisor. Went through the same nonsense with the same result – we want to take away your epipen.

    Then I said the magic words: “Fine. You confiscate my epipen and I’m going to the press”. Funnily enough it suddenly became safe for me to travel with it again.

  • Jörg Maaß says:

    Just to continue the airport security bashing:

    At the height of the first gulf war, I flew from Frankfurt to Nizza for a conference. Security was insane, and I spent more than two hours getting from the entry hall to the gate, during which time I and my luggage was searched thoroughly two times. The atmosphere, the constant rerouting and the queueing caused everybody a lot of stress. I had the gate in sight, and was happy to have the nightmare behind me, while the clock continued to tick towards the flight time. Little did I know!

    In front of the gate was another X-Ray machine, and a table with an overworked security official. Behind him stood a young police guy with a submachine gun. I was asked to put my belongings on the conveyor belt of the X-Ray machine and stand back to get searched. I asked if that was really necessary since my flight was about to leave and I had been searched two times already. The response was an opened luggage and the security guy picking out my hairdryer with two fingers, asking: “What is this?”

    By now I was seriously pissed. So I told him, with as much sarcasm as I could muster: “This… is a hairdryer…” My mental addition didn’t make it through. He asked me to plug it in and confirm that it worked. I did so, and he seemed relieved. Hairdryers, as you all know, have a very large caliber and can do a lot of harm when fired.

    Next thing he picked out was my battery operated electric razor. “And what is this?” “This is an electric razor! Wanna see how it works?” And I grabbed it out of his hand and flipped the switch. The humming of the razor seemed very loud. The young guy with the submachine gun jumped back and pulled the gun off his shoulder, pointing it at me and flipping the security. I raised my hands and held on to my happily humming razor. After an awkward moment of pause, the young guy put the security back on and my adversary told me to put my arms down and get the hell out of here. And thats what I did, with the plane to Nizza…

    Second story: When I was working for Digital Equipment, some umpteen years ago, we were asked by Fraport to remedy a computer problem they had with their luggage handling system. The computers used at the time were PDPs, and I was mainly a network specialist at the time. So I enlisted the help of a colleague and off we went, loaded with all sorts of tools and cables. The tools were stored in large, pilot bag-style bags. Our only means of identification was our company badges, which consisted of laminated sheets of heavy paper, showing out photo, company employee number, name and the company logo. Anybody could have counterfeited those things.

    We made it to the airport, but could find the right entrance. So we went into the arrival hall, sneaking through the automated exit doors by simply waiting in front of them until passengers came out. No one stopped us or asked what we were doing. We approached a customs official and asked him for the way to the luggage handling system. He asked for ID. We presented our company badges. He nodded, took us out to the apron and pointed to a steel door, some hundred meters off. “This is the entrance! I have to go back to work. Good Luck!”

    And there we stood, with about a hundred pounds of unsearched stuff in large bags, two company badges and amidst the parked planes. As terrorists, we would have had a hell of a time…

    Airport security? Good for shows!

  • Jörg Maaß says:

    Actually, I have a third one: My wife and I wanted to fly to Canada recently to visit relatives. We made it through security unharmed (if you don’t count my aftershave, newly bought and sealed in the original container. It was confiscated because of “security regulations”, even though I pointed out that it was brand new, sealed and obviously untampered with. I even opened and sniffed it for them, to no avail…).

    While we were standing at the gate, an Indian (or Pakistani) looking guy comes up and wants to enter the waiting area behind the gate. Security stops him and asks for ID. He presents a passport with the photo or a different guy! Security asks him for his name and he gives the name of the guy in the passport. They ask him where he plans to go. “Vancouver!” “And where do you want to stay in Vancouver?” “Vancouver!” “No, no, are you visiting relatives there or are you on a business trip?” “Vancouver!” “Arrgh, and where do you want to stay in Vancouver?” “Surrey!” (Which is about 30 kilometers OUT OF VANCOUVER. “OK, go on!” And they let him on the plane.

    My wife was scared shitless during the whole flight, because she expected him to pull a bomb out of his underpants at any minute or set his trousers on fire. Vancouver security grabbed him, though (they must have been informed by the guys in Frankfurt) and the last thing we saw of him was when his butt was led into an interrogation room. Undoubtedly he still mumbles “Vancouver!” somewhere…

    • Ni2 says:

      No, no, he now mumbles “Surrey!” all the time – he probably realised mumbling “Vancouver!” can get him into trouble.

  • Linda says:

    @ Gloria Navarro – even though it is after the event, put in a formal complaint giving times and dates. Regardless of any security ‘concerns’ the staff could ‘justify’, your treatment was inhumane and they showed flagrant disregard for your health.

    I got ordered rather abruptly through one of those body scanners in the US last year.

    Unfortunately, I was rather tired and this was at the height of the latest Virgin ads where they show a James Bond-esq traveller doing a sashay in the scanner (whilst being viewed by attractive and doubtless adoring security staff).

    Naturally I did the sashay …and was ordered back through by a deadpan security person (who was armed, grumpy, but no doubt wanted to shoot Mr Branson instead).

  • Nate says:

    We had been in Brazil for research for 4 weeks in 1992 and were to board the plane at Brasilia in a couple of hours. I was given a wedding present of a set of nice kitchen knives by our Brazilian co-researchers and friends. My checked bags had already departed for the airport so I stuck the knives in my carry on and forgot them until my checked bags had been checked. Pretty embarrassing to have them discovered by the x-ray machine. The Brazilian officials said not to worry and took the package with the knives to the pilot of the plane for Sao Paulo, our departure airport. They were then given to the pilot of the aircraft that would take me to the US entry port of Miami and given to me when I left the aircraft. At Miami I put them in one of my checked bags for my next leg. I’m still using those great knives.

  • Kay Shapero says:

    1) obviously the “manbag” is subversive because the next thing you know we’ll have men carrying purses and we can’t have that now can we? :)

    2) I believe I shall continue to avoid airports – the temptation to start quoting Wallace and Grommit about the wrong trousers would have been far too great….

  • Mike Flynn says:

    Valentine A. above did not believe that the TSA would profile so obviously, but I can confirm that they do. In 2007, I was on a flight and in Dallas Fort Worth they pulled off everybody who did not have white skin and me. I am white but I was born in the middle east. It was so obvious that they were just screening the non-whites that we all looked at each other in disbelief.

    Another thing that it is hard to find a rational explanation for is that before 9/11 I was frequently pulled out of departure lounges and given my own special screening because I was born in the middle east, even though I had not been there since January 1985. I am very white and have English parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. I would sometimes be interrrogate for an hour by very stupid security folk. Frequently they would take my hand baggage away from me and put it in the hold – I really cannot understand how that would make anybody in the plane safer, especially as all it ever had in it were newspapers and books. After 9/11, TSA and its equivalents in other countries stopped giving me any special attention apart form the incident in Dallas.

  • Richard Agent says:

    Back in the 80s I worked for the Australian Dept of Defence as a weapons designer. Arriving at a meeting in Melbourne I opened my case and pulled out the two hand grenades I’d brought by plane from Canberra. They were real grenades without the explosive fill but I’d forgotten they were there and they’d gone through the screening x-ray before I boarded.
    On my return I stood in the queue I wondered if I should keep quiet and hope they wouldn’t be spotted, or risk missing the flight while I faced the police questioning.
    I decided to risk a delay and own up. “There’s a couple of inert hand grenades in there” I said as I put my case on the belt.
    “Mary! Come and look at this!” The guy behind the screen called out. “That’s what a hand grenade looks like!”
    The case came out of the tunnel and the security guard handed it to me.
    No, they didn’t need me to open the case, and no I didn’t need to prove they were inert. Have a nice flight sir.
    How times have changed.

  • Richard Agent says:

    In 2010 I had a fantastic holiday in Egypt.
    A land of security contradictions.
    Airports and hotels had x-ray scanners at the entrance and security was strict. I had my unopened bottle of water confiscated before I got to the departure gate. The sign said no liquids beyond this point and the guards made sure of it.
    On the other hand the historic monuments also had the archway detectors (and armed Tourist Police) but nobody took any notice of the flashing lights and buzzers when people streamed through carrying all sorts of things that airport security lock you up for. Even our guide said it was funny that they made everyone get off the bus and walk through the archway before they got back on the bus to drive the next 100 metres. “Just leave your guns on the bus” was his joke. On the other hand we were tourists, Egypt’s major revenue source. Maybe an Egyptian would be stopped and searched.
    However a fellow traveller was leapt on by the Tourist Police at one monument because he DIDN’T set off the flashing lights. They thought he was trying to hide something!

  • TRX says:

    I have a stainless steel rod running from left knee to ankle that was put in to hold the crushed pieces of my shinbone together after being run down by a drunk driver. Even in the 1980s and 1990s it caused annoying trouble. Now every time I go into most county or (US) Federal buildings I get to play the Security Dance with the guards. The other buildings have scanners that only check the top half of your body, and I walk through unmolested. I could probably walk through with an AK-47 taped to each leg and some of those ridiculous homeboy parachute pants to cover them.

    Interestingly, in most of these buildings cops, politicians, and delivery people simply walk around the scanners and into the building.

    I got fed up with the fake-security hassle at airports back in the 1980s, and I not only no longer fly, I no longer venture onto airport property, much less the secure areas. This caused one former employer considerable consternation.

  • Bill Stewart says:

    Lots of people say that the TSA and its equivalents in other countries are failures, but success or failure depends on your objectives. If your goal is to intimidate the public and create a culture of obedience to and dependence on authority, they’re about as effective as they can get away with being. If your goal is actual security, no, routinely threatening travellers with sexual assault for non-cooperation doesn’t much resemble security, but as bullying goes, the TSA have avoided getting arrested for it.

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  • Northern England says:

    You can achieve security without the need to humiliate the people who (indirectly) pay your wages.

    A little smile, an explanation and a “thank you” – as often happens in the UK’s provincial airports (but certainly not LHR or LGW) – and the wheels of civility are oiled to move more sweetly and make the process a little more bearable.

    Instead, we get replays of the Stanford prison experiment as the jobsworths prefer to bully everyone who walks past when little do they know that the vast majority of people would otherwise be happy to co-operate, instead of being made to be submissive. After all, we all have a common will to survive.

  • Earl Mardle says:

    In about 2004 I was travelling from Stockholm to Washington DC via Frankfurt. Because of the US destination we had to go through secondary screening which was handled by German Grenzen Polizei. I listened with an idiot grin to this exchange with the passenger in front of me.

    (Sorry about the ersatz accent but it makes the point)

    “Zo. Ven you get to ze US, do exactly ass zey tell you. Do not chat, do not make sudden moofs and do not make chokes, ze Americans haf NO sense of humour”

    As a member of the generation where all it took to indicate rigid, humourless and probably totalitarian thinking was to “talk like a Cherman” I realised just how far we had come.

  • Funny how airport security here in China where I live, and in neighbouring Asian countries, seems so much more efficient yet equally inoffensive about it.

    Dunno.

    Been here 10 years.

    OK, I have to turn in my penny cigarette lighters and it’s a peeve on arrival but most of the fondling patter-downers are pleasant young ladies: the guys love it and the ladies never complain: Problem solved!

  • The Edith Evans line was the funniest thing I’ve read in a long, long time. Epic.

  • Ni2 says:

    If you would have agreed to the pants thing, the security official would have said, “Your trousers would have to travel business class.” All the other passengers would think, “He cares so much to not crease his trousers that he travels economy but makes sure his trousers fly business class.”

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