Airline Security For The Uninitiated

8 Feb

When I first flew to Canada almost twelve years ago, travel was relatively easy. You checked your bag and got your boarding pass from a pretty woman with a big smile and insanely white teeth, and then you headed over to the gate, where your carry-on bag went through an X-ray machine. As long as you didn’t have something in there that could bring down Fort Knox, you were good to go.

Even in the wake of 9/11, there wasn’t really anything to travelling. The same procedures were followed, albeit more thoroughly. Lineups were longer, more questions were asked, and from time to time, your stuff was checked for anthrax.

Now that I am in the midst of my first long-haul journey in seven years, I find that air travel is a whole different ballgame to what it used to be. All the rules have changed, and when I went through the security screening at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, I had no idea what to expect.

I had already quizzed one of my co-workers, a recent traveller, on the legalities of bringing a small tube of toothpaste onto the plane with me. For some reason I thought that if I knew the answer to that, I’d be home free.

But then I saw the guy in front of me sifting through his carry-on baggage, removing items and confidently putting them in plastic trays. He whipped off his jacket and put it into another tray. He and his belongings went through the various machines and off he went. And I was left standing there, wondering what I was supposed to be putting into the plastic trays.

I took out my sad tube of toothpaste in its Ziploc bag and put it into a tray, along with my phone and my laptop. And because I had seen the guy in front of me remove his jacket, I did the same.  I tentatively shoved all of my stuff onto the conveyer belt and wondered about my shoes.

Some people were removing their shoes and others weren’t. Everyone appeared to know as if by magic whether their footwear could stay on their feet. I had to expose myself as the no-longer-experienced traveller that I am and call out to a security guy, who assured me that my shoes looked fine and could stay on.

Although it took no longer than three minutes for me to pass through the security checkpoint, I found the whole process to be a little daunting. Then again, this entire trip is daunting when you consider the circumstances behind it.

At least when I passed through the checkpoint at Heathrow Airport, I kind of knew what I had to do. I even knew the exact pose to strike when the machine beeped at me as I walked through and I had to be searched.

I really hope they don’t change the rules again during my stay in South Africa. It would be a shame, now that I’m just starting to get the hang of it again.

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