Thursday, October 26, 2006

London Airport Security Is Tolerable

We just flew back to the Southern Med from London's Heathrow and found the security experience annoying but tolerable.

Unlike the rest of Europe, the Brits only allow one IATA-size carry on bag - that's so security can search a higher percentage of bags. Mrs G crammed her handbag (purse) into her carry on.

The line for security was only about 15 minutes long. But people weren't amused by an apparently Arab couple (man in white robes, woman in top-to-toe black outfit) jumping the line. The guy was in a wheelchair, and the airport official pushing him said they were late for their flight. Nobody around us believed this, and there was much muttering as the female breezed through security, so far as we could see without removing the mask.

Passengers had to discard all liquids or gels - the small girl in front of us wailed piteously when she had to surrender her little tube of toothpaste.

Otherwise the security people were sensible - they allowed a woman carrying an enormous stuffed toy plus her purse to break the one case rule.

Many Americans put their shoes on the x-ray belt and walked through the metal detector in their socks, although this practice isn't mandated by the Brits.

We weren't wanded, our bags weren't searched, and the security team wasn't bothered by my having two laptops.

The only odd experience was being asked my destination by the clerk at the newspaper vendor (W H Smith). She asked this of every customer and said this was part of a survey, but since she didn't record the replies that's unlikely.

Maybe possession of a Wall Street Journal is risky at some destinations and the clerks are primed to warn customers? Or maybe Heathrow Management has decreed its customers must be asked weird questions at every touch point?

Bottom line: other than the single bag limit, the daft restrictions on toothpaste and cosmetics, and the weird newspaper experience, flying from Heathrow is tolerable again. So I wouldn't be put off visiting London - just don't buy any big items you don't want to risk checking (or go ahead and buy them, then FedEx them home).

And if you want to breeze through security, just wear full Arab dress, check in late, and demand a wheelchair.