Three or four years ago, I announced to a waiting world – well, my family actually, none of whom were exactly quivering with excited anticipation if I’m honest – that I was no longer prepared to travel to and from the US. Of course, this was a purely academic protest as my devotion to a life of austerity (something that the long-suffering Mrs Time Traveller prefers to describe more prosaically as bone idleness) meant there was absolutely no prospect of ever raising sufficient funds to make such a journey, let alone afford the hotels and burgers once there.
The reason for my new-found aversion to our American cousins was their decision to treat all visitors as potential terrorists. Providing them with all my personal details several days in advance, the possibility of being subjected to a load of tom-fool questions by their somewhat humourless immigration officials and the certainty of being fingerprinted is not exactly the most welcoming approach in my book: and while I don’t want anybody to make a fuss (just a little bunting and a band would suffice), I don’t like to feel unwelcome, especially in the Land of the Free.. I get enough of that when returning to the UK.
America’s loss is Europe’s gain I say – despite what Europe might think. But then a few months back, I made the decision never to fly anywhere again. Air travel has long ceased to be the glamorous option that it once was but in recent years, it has become an exercise in tedium, wasted time and excessive, jobsworth security.
It starts with the journey to the airport: going by train costs a fortune for a family group which makes a road journey by car the affordable option – until it comes to the parking charges. But then the ever-extending check-in times probably makes an overnight stay necessary: it’s a good job that the flights only cost a fiver a head. Damn! Forgotten the boarding passes – join another queue and pay another £40. Through to security – remove belts, shoes.. but we’ve forgotten the plastic bag for fluids. Put shoes back on, rush back to collect plastic bag. Damn – trousers have fallen down. Where’s my belt?!!! Too late, it’s been disposed of in a controlled explosion. Place fluids in plastic bag, rush through to security – different gate this time where, for some reason, I’m not required to remove my shoes. But the toothpaste is preventing the clear plastic bag closing – the toothpaste is confiscated. Set off bleeper on the metal detector – remove shoes – OK – shoes back on. ‘Is this your bag sir?’ ‘Yes’. He opens it in front of me and confiscates my deadly corkscrew. Through to airside where I buy one of those expensive multi-bladed swiss army knives with an attached corkscrew. Flight delayed. Get coffee and sandwich. Just paying when the flight is announced – spill coffee. Through to the gate where my hand luggage appears to have swollen – remove several items and stuff them in my jacket pocket – problem solved. Board aircraft and attempt to dry coffee spill on my trousers. Nobody sits next to me for some reason. Take off, turbulence, a bit more turbulence, a strange noise, lots and lots of turbulence, captain tells us it’s wet and cold at our destination, we land. The man with the gun at passport control doesn’t shoot us, we join the back of the car hire queue and eventually secure the registration number and key for our car. By the time we find the car, it’s dark. Jump in – only a two hour drive now. Damn! The code for the car park exit doesn’t work. Return to desk – everybody’s gone home.. At the end of the holiday, repeat process in reverse. Be treated like a criminal at UK passport control. Do they ever smile? The parking company has remodelled the front of my car..
It was the body-scanners that finally did it for me. They are an expensive, intrusive exercise in fatuity. They were introduced after the debacle of the Y-front bomber, the guy with the useless ‘bomb’ who despite having no passport and no luggage was put onto the Dallas-bound flight from Holland by men strongly suspected to be part of the American security services. It may have been a case of left hand not knowing what right hand was doing or it could have been a carefully contrived security scare to panic administrations into buying the extant stocks of scanners gathering dust in their American manufacturers’ warehouses. Whatever, panicked administrations dutifully made significant contributions of your taxes to the profitability of the scanners’ manufacturers.
But the scanners don’t work. Oh, they certainly provide hours of fun for pervy operators – if you’re particularly cute or hideously deformed, you stand a chance of becoming an overnight internet sensation – and they would almost certainly see the Walther P99 strapped to your body.. But then, the standard metal detector would see the Walther without the expense and radiation issues of the body scanner. There is a great deal of doubt that the scanner would have detected the chemicals being carried by the Underpants Bomber and it has been shown that explosives moulded to the body that would be picked up by a sniffer dog would almost certainly go undetected in the body scanner. I, for example, constantly appear to have massive quantities of plastic explosive strapped to my middle. Anything concealed in an orifice is equally likely to go undetected.
From my point of view, body scanners represent a gross abuse of power – with no real benefit – in a paranoid system that has already long over-stepped the acceptable levels of inconvenience being applied to air passengers. We were promised that terrorism wouldn’t change our way of life; they lied.
So where is all this headed I hear you ask.
Nowhere really except to remind you of this story from yesterday. While you are subjected to endless security queues, suffering numerous indignities and even virtually stripped if you’re very lucky, freight appears to undergo no such checks. Unless the baggage we place in the holds of our passenger aircraft is checked as rigourously as we are, all of those security measures we undergo really would appear to be less about our security and more designed to spook us. See you on the ferry.