If there’s one thing that makes travelling by airplane an ordeal, it’s airport security. The fact that this is as oxymoronic as ‘British Intelligence’ is only half of the story, for that part of your journey which entails walking through the little arch that goes “bing” largely accounts for all the rest of the misery surrounding airports.
Now I can of course only pretend that this is a real ‘pet hate’—for starters, it is a pretty universal sentiment—since it serves its purpose pretty well. That of protecting innocent people? Oh no, there is no security at the airport per se! If you want to set off a bomb or open a phial of some contagious disease, in an area as crowded as the city centre, feel free. There are even bins provided for your convenience. But to make everyone feel safer about boarding the big bricks with wings, and of course for the protection of those big bricks with wings, passengers must arrive early, hand up their luggage for inspection, and file through security like cattle. Oh, and these days, of course you should throw away anything over 100ml!
Well that’s all well and good, but does any of it actually work? Any small sharp objects taken through security will be quickly confiscated, just in case you are tempted to start trimming your nails in public (heaven forbid!), but they will happily provide with a can of beer or pop which any remotely enterprising villain could readily fashion into a very sharp implement to slash someone’s throat with.1 Of course, no billiard cues would be allowed on the plane, since we all know what a great swing you could take in the cabin,2 but an extension cord or power cable for wrapping around that little girl’s neck and threatening to asphyxiate her unless they let you into the cockpit, well that’s just using your initiative.
And what about that 100ml limit? It’s actually up to a total of litre in most places, which is probably, thank goodness, insufficient to blow a plane up in one go. Of course, those carefully prepared poxy explosives stored in a tube of mascara and a pot of lip gloss should be able to blow a nice hole in the fuselage. Who knows, maybe more if you sat in the right place!
Of course, not everyone would be daring enough to try something so reliant on chemistry, which is where that little arch that goes “bing” might just do you a favour. In Kraków-Balice airport, a woman wearing a tight denim jacket with buttons to the brim unsurprisingly set off the pulse induction metal detector. A quick frisk and she was on her way. But this was in the days after the British airport security scare, so there was a second, more ‘personal’ security checkpoint to go through. Her bag was searched, and her body checked over with a magic wand, which bleeped away merrily as if it had just discovered an android, and off she went on her merry way, with god knows what packed away in all those little buttons.
Let’s face it, a lot of us have probably smuggled things through airport security, knowingly or otherwise, so just imagine someone putting some effort into it! And if all else fails, you could do worse than try it at a regional airport. That hand luggage you pass through a machine is scanned with X-rays to display a multi-coloured picture of the various frequencies of absorption, highlighting metal, inorganic and most importantly organic substances.3 Last week I managed to smuggle a few pounds of Lancashire hot pot through one of the regional airports of the British Isles, without a qualm or a query. Fortunately for them, there was only a flavour explosion at the other end!