Tag Archives: airport security

Airport Reports: Malpensa

Looks as if I’m a frequent traveller again this year, and I hope that will hold true for some time to come. I’ve been relatively quiet for the last six years – usually only one annual trip outside Europe – but it’s time to spread my wings again. Travel woman: that’s who I am and Read More…

Looks as if I’m a frequent traveller again this year, and I hope that will hold true for some time to come. I’ve been relatively quiet for the last six years – usually only one annual trip outside Europe – but it’s time to spread my wings again. Travel woman: that’s who I am and what I do.

Today’s flight, courtesy of Sun Microsystems, takes me from Milan to Frankfurt to Denver, on a United Airlines-Lufthansa code share. First problem arises from “code share.” I woke up at 3 am with an anxiety attack (I do that sometimes) and thought I should check in online in advance, as I had done coming back from my last trip on British Airways (they even had a very cute online application that let me choose my seats).

The tickets for this trip were purchased (by AmEx Business Travel, using my credit card), from United Airlines, but the aircraft appears to be Lufthansa all the way. So I went to the Lufthansa.com to check in. They didn’t recognize my credit card, kept asking for another. And that was the only option offered – no possibility to enter the record number, which I have on the printed out e-ticket.

I tried United’s website, and they apparently recognized me via the credit card, but told me I had to check in with Lufthansa. Argh.

Went back to sleep, woke up at 5:15, showered, drank coffee, dithered and fiddled until Antonello (o peerlessly faithful taxi driver!) arrived bang on time at 6. In spite of a sudden thunderstorm along the way, we reached Malpensa just after 7, and I was checked in by 7:15.

Malpensa is not the world’s most interesting airport – no real bookshops and no music/video shops. I had another coffee (decaf this time), fresh-squeezed OJ, and a chocolate croissant for breakfast, went on through security (no line! I am always going to fly on Tuesdays from now on for the rest of my life – flights on Tuesdays are cheaper, too).

There are lots of expensive fashion shops at Malpensa, but nothing I’d actually buy. A nice business class lounge would be a welcome refuge, but KLM, in spite of the Platinum status they reinstated me to a while ago, won’t let me sit in their lounge because I’m not flying on them or one of their partner airlines (what good is Platinum membership if I can’t use it anytime I damn well please?). And I can’t use Lufthansa’s lounge because I’m not flying business class with them.

So I’m sitting on the floor by the departure gate next to a wall socket (look for them on the columns near the windows) – might as well save my laptop’s battery while I can, it’s going to be a long trip. This is the only socket for miles and I’ve got it – several other laptop owners are eyeing me jealously.

Destination for this flight is Frankfurt. Also not my favorite airport. I’ve flown through there to India several times, and the terminal those flights leave from is remarkably lacking in services. Probably the US flights leave from a different terminal, hopefully with something a little more exciting in the way of food than German sausages and beer (which are only available from smoke-filled bars).

Security

Here in Milan, I did not have to take out my laptop or take my shoes off. Does this mean their equipment is different (it looks the same as any other airport x-ray)? Or should I be worried about lax security? Or (sshh! don’t tell!) does this mean that the elaborate procedures at other airports are designed to make us feel more secure when actually we aren’t?

Dressing for Travel

In the travel forums I frequent, American tourists often ask how they can dress to not look like tourists in Italy. Some other American tourists reply: “They’re going to know you’re a foreigner anyway, so why bother?” But that misses the point.

I wish all American tourists were so attentive to the cultures they are visiting as to actively research how to dress for the local culture. On my last trip through Heathrow, I noticed a group of teenage girls travelling together (I always wonder where these globetrotting kids are going, and why), and was horrified by their attire. Most were wearing sweatshirts, baggy capri-length trousers, and flip-flops. One even had her U-shaped travel pillow stuck firmly around her neck. They all looked as if they had just come off the beach.

I’m neither a prude nor a snob, and there is something I like about Americans’ relaxed attitude towards dressing. It can be a profound relief after the “keeping up with the Joneses” fashionability of Italians (I don’t always bother). But, when in a foreign country, it seems disrespectful. I wish some of my fellow citizens would think a little harder about the impression they make on others.

Hot Water

While in the UK a couple of weekends ago, I bought a hot water bottle at Boots, and packed it into my only luggage (carry-on) to bring back to Italy. The x-ray technician at security was momentarily confused: “Is that a hot water bottle?” “Yes, they’re surprisingly hard to find in Italy,” I replied. A Read More…

While in the UK a couple of weekends ago, I bought a hot water bottle at Boots, and packed it into my only luggage (carry-on) to bring back to Italy. The x-ray technician at security was momentarily confused: “Is that a hot water bottle?”

“Yes, they’re surprisingly hard to find in Italy,” I replied.

A security lady opened my bag carefully and pulled out a perfectly ordinary, red rubber hot water bottle, with the tag still on. (I had had a feeling that might be useful.)

“Well, you can’t carry it on,” she declared.

“It’s brand new and has never contained any liquid of any kind. What is the problem?”

“The rule says you can’t bring on water bottles,” she insisted stubbornly.

I wasn’t going to make a scene in airport security, but I was deeply puzzled. The lady asked a colleague his opinion.

“I don’t think it means that kind of water bottle,” he said.

“The rule says no water bottles!”

So she asked a supervisor, who looked bemused. “No, not that kind of water bottle. She can take it on.”

The lady looked put out – she apparently cherished the strictest possible interpretation of the rules. But I got to bring home my hot water bottle.

Airport “Security”: Reflections on Our Times

After all the fuss in the UK last week about terrorists toting Gatorade bottles, we faced our return flight to Italy with some trepidation. Not because we were afraid of being blown up, but because the “enhanced security measures” widely reported in the media promised hours in line waiting to be pawed over by TSA Read More…

After all the fuss in the UK last week about terrorists toting Gatorade bottles, we faced our return flight to Italy with some trepidation. Not because we were afraid of being blown up, but because the “enhanced security measures” widely reported in the media promised hours in line waiting to be pawed over by TSA agents of questionable competence, for no increase in our actual safety.

I worried a great deal about how to pack. Not what to pack, because I didn’t have much choice about that – we had arrived in the US with two iPods, a laptop, and a digital still camera. Once there, we picked up my videocamera (which had been sent for repairs), and Ross got a new digital SLR for her birthday. Everything else might be expendable, but I was damned if I was going to pack a brand-new and expensive camera in checked luggage. And we had done a lot of other shopping, so our two large suitcases were already bulging (and tempting).

I checked the TSA and airline sites daily, and was relieved to see the former being frequently updated with new information. By a day or two before departure, it was clear that, as far as TSA was concerned, I needn’t worry about carrying on the electronics. But I still stressed about it, wondering if overzealous airline staff might give me a hard time – US Airways’ site had not been updated after the first day of fear, so I had no way of knowing if their policies had changed.

I was relieved to find that the new suitcase locks I had bought were TSA-friendly (meaning that security agents have keys to open them). Normally I prefer to use non-TSA locks and accompany the bags myself through the initial scan, but, under the circumstances, I didn’t want to give anybody any excuses to get paranoid about my luggage.

We flew from Baltimore BWI to Philadelphia to Milan last Thursday. On the advice of US Airways, we arrived at BWI three hours ahead of flight time – which turned out to be totally unnecessary. Check-in was smooth, once I had figured out that I was supposed to do it myself on a touch screen terminal – I guess this is increasingly common in the US, but it’s still fairly new to me. Then it took the agent a while to figure out how to ring up our $100 charge for overweight luggage. In light of everyone emptying their usually heavy carry-ons (on advice of TSA and the media), it would have been a nice gesture on the part of the airline to add a little to the checked baggage weight allowance (though my own suitcases were heavy for other reasons).

We dutifully drank our bottles of orange juice before heading into security. First stop was an air-puff bomb sniffing machine, then the usual “everything off/out” x-ray and metal dectector. The line was minimal, the TSA staff efficient and seemingly competent. We ended up with way too much time to hang around in the terminal (and then the flight was late).

My large new backpack contained my laptop, videocamera, still camera, books, non-liquid toiletries, and iPod. In addition, I was carrying a nearly-empty purse, for easy access to my wallet, tickets, passports, etc. Weirdly, it was the purse they decided to swab for bomb-making chemicals. The TSA agent apologized for the delay and said it was “something about the way things were laying in it.” Possibly the metal coil on a small spiral-bound notebook had looked strange on the x-ray.

At the gate there were recorded announcements that you couldn’t take liquids etc. on the plane, but no one was actually looking at bags, so I could easily have gotten away with buying something in the terminal and carrying it on.

We had a three-hour layover in Philadelphia – plenty of time for a security check which we didn’t actually go through. Depending on what terminal you switch to in any given airport, you may or may not have to go through security again when transiting between flights. We had gone through security in Philadelphia on the way in, but didn’t on the way out.

At the gates, again there was a recorded announcement about liquids, but no actual check. I noticed that duty-free bags were being handed over at the plane door. Though I did not look closely at what was in them, some of it may have been cream-type cosmetics. I guess this is okay if you receive it at the door and it’s in a sealed package, though I wouldn’t absolutely rely on this, and would not myself risk buying expensive cosmetics in the duty-free just now.

I usually like a strong finish on my articles, but perhaps it’s best that I refrain from any flippant remarks about how easily anyone with half a brain could circumvent all this “security.” In America these days, you never know who’s reading your mail…

Fearsome Flying

“Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday that he believes security crackdowns over the Christmas holidays, including the cancellation of some passenger flights into the United States, averted a terrorist attack. But intelligence on the threat was so wispy that U.S. officials may never know for sure, he said.” By John Mintz, Washington Post Staff Read More…

“Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday that he believes security crackdowns over the Christmas holidays, including the cancellation of some passenger flights into the United States, averted a terrorist attack. But intelligence on the threat was so wispy that U.S. officials may never know for sure, he said.”

By John Mintz, Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, February 5, 2004; Page A10

It’s not for me to judge the real level of risk, but here’s a thought: al Qaeda doesn’t actually have to get terrorists onto planes now, they only have to make the US government think they will. The flight cancellations and delays cost millions to the airlines and individuals affected, and scrambling US Air Force jets to escort planes is surely also expensive. Maybe all these precautions prevent real threats from being carried out; no one wants to take the chance, of course. But maybe al Qaeda is just toying with us and enjoying the ensuing mess.