Sunday, 28 August 2011

We are not the problem

Airport security machinesImage via WikipediaMy heart sank as we walked into security at Belfast's 'George Best' City Airport and I saw the Group Four logos on the staff's shirts. Outsourcing airport security, for some reason, just struck me as wrong.

My word, but they were professional. Scrupulous, painstaking and unfailingly polite. Sarah's bag was re-scanned and finally hand-searched by a staffer who explained what was going on, why and what he was doing - who was pleasant and yet businesslike, his movements careful, considered and in no way threatening. He even offered to help repack the bag.

The whole experience merely highlighted for me how utterly dehumanising and demeaning the awful security at Heathrow is - and how it really doesn't have to be like that. I have had run-ins with the staff at Heathrow before, aggressive and pumped up with their own importance, they seem to jump on any chance to crack the whip and let you know that 'sir' is a word used to call dogs. Their attitude is bullying, aggressive and at times sneering - they use aggressive hand gestures, are above any explanation and seem to thrive on working in one of the filthiest security areas I have ever encountered.

I have been increasingly puzzled at why we all put up with it - cowed and compliant, we let the staff running this demeaning regiman treat us like criminals rather than the people they are charged to protect. We shuffle through the barriers, herded with curt grunts of 'this way', 'down here' or 'this side'; we stop obediently when hands are shoved in our faces, wait for trays to be brought before we take our laptops out of our bags (not Kindles, for some reason) and take off our belts and shoes to shuffle through the metal detector - all the while being barked at by the camp guards.

On one flight, Sarah was selected for random body scanning. Not unnaturally, she asked about the scanner - what technology was it, were there any risks associated with it? She was told to 'read the sign', which helpfully said you have been selected for scanning and if you don't comply you won't be allowed to fly. It was the final straw. We complained to the Important Looking Man With The Radio and pointed out that he might like consider a trip to Belfast to look at best practice because Heathrow's security area was a deeply - and wholly unnecessarily - unpleasant place to be (in fact, friends refuse to fly through Heathrow for this very reason).

He agreed with us. Apparently BAA recognises the fact they have poor people skills and that their management of passengers has become secondary to their management of the task. Which is all very well, but the people in this case ARE the task. We have security, surely, so we can travel without fear and the shadow of extremism over our heads. The people providing the security are public servants, accountable, open to question and responsible for managing the task, in this case protecting people, appropriately.

Or have I gone mad? Should we really be grateful, in the name of protecting us against extremism, to be treated like dumb beasts every time we travel?
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Seabee said...

Not mad Alex, you're right.

Trouble is, the people at the frontline are usually neanderthals. At the bottom of the ladder, no career path it's just a job, badly paid, badly educated, badly trained (if at all), power beyond their wildest dreams.

It's not confined to security either. Most systems are well-meaning but the creators forget that they'll have neanderthals administering it. That's where it inevitably falls down.

(Heathrow, BTW, has to be a strong contender for world's worst airport).

Keefieboy said...

I recently did a post about this, comparing Heathrow and Gatwick:

Mita said...

Whats really galling is the ones they are 'protecting' us from find innovative and creative ways to get in anyway!

And no Heathrow is not the worst - surely Paris has to be a strong contender!

Anonymous said...

I uess you're used to getting treated like royalty in the UAE, eh? We Indians get worse treatment than that here itself.

Ali said...

Well said anon. The airports in the Gulf are not very nice for anyone of Asian descent. From rudely addressing people "yalla, itla3" to calling an Indian "hey hindi, idhar aao" to escorting people holding European passports to the front of queues, we have seen it all. In fact Dubai Airport is better than airports in some neighboring countries.

I would love to see them addressing a Gulf Arab with "yalla itla3" but they wont because only some people "deserve" respect

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