Airport Security

Now I like, it must be said, secure aeroplanes. The thought of being hijacked is an anathema to me, and to that end, I am happy to undergo airport screening.

To a point.

And it is this very level of screening that always bewilders me, and in particular, I would love it if the airport screeners actually seemed to be singing from the same page.

There is a subtle difference between airport security in Europe and in the USA; simply put, the security folks in the major European airports seem competent and professional, those in the USA seem to be the cheapest folks available; Canada, as always, lies somewhere in between.

It must be said that working for CATSA must be the most boring career imaginable; perhaps new recruits believe that they will be the ones to stop another airline massacre, but the odds of spotting anything more dramatic than an errant can of shaving cream or half a bottle of forgotten water are remote. Year after year, the prospect of this future must loom larger, and only those who make it to management or those of a particularly authoritative bent remain. And so turn-over is a problem, and one is confronted all too regularly with those keeners, actually believing that they are doing the world’s security a service.

So yesterday, having cleared security in Torshavn, Copenhagen and Amsterdam with no issue, I arrived back in Canada. And sure enough, the two newbies on duty at Pearson airport in Torontobecame terrifically overexcited by a glimpseof something in my bag. It turned out that the objects of their fascination were glass bracelets; unable to distinguish between glass and liquids – and yes, I know that glass is technically a liquid, but this is not the point – even after feeling the items, I had to unwrap them and present them to the scanners.

Petty, futile and unutterably irritating; the wrapping torn – yes I know that I am not supposed to have presents wrapped at security – mine, and eveyone behind me in the queue’s time wasted; two young women on their first week on the job saving Air Canada from disaster and an incandescent Max.

I do get annoyedat the sheer stupidity of the system; do I feel any more secure now all travellers are harassed to bits? Of course not; if one wants to get nasty stuff on to aircraft it seems that disguising it as cocaine would do the trick; there seems to be no abatement in the movement of the stuff anywhere. Before September 11th one flew around the world with little interference and an infinitesimal chance of disaster; now we fly around the world with varying degrees of hassle and an infinitesimal chance of disaster. Relying on airport security to deter terrorists from smuggling weapons on board also requires one to believe that anyone trying to massacre hundreds of people by bringing down an airliner would draw the line at being arrested by a CATSA security agent.

Improbable.

And real progress, like programming these full-body scanners to detonate any explosives they actually detect seems like a distant dream. In the meantime, however, I would urge both the Canadian and particularly American security organisations to figure out how to retain their employees, and help them distinguish between petty harassment and professional security process.

At that point, the travelling public might take the process more genially.