Security at airports: Travel

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The Independent Travel
As recent events have shown, airports need stringent security against the threat of terrorism. Some summers ago, I played a small part in the campaign by frisking passengers at Gatwick airport (NB: I was employed to do this by Securicor - it wasn't just a hobby).

The only exciting discovery I made was of a Camping Gaz cylinder in someone's hand luggage. If the pressure in the cabin had dropped too low, it could have exploded. So I was despatched with the cylinder to the far end of the apron to carry out a controlled release of the contents, and handed back the empty container to the far-from-cheery passenger.

Perhaps I was not sufficiently vigilant. Cecily Woolf of Brighton has just returned from Vancouver, minus her can of insect repellent. She warns: "Vancouver airport security are confiscating mosquito repellents and fly sprays on outgoing flights, on the grounds that they constitute 'toxic substances'. About 20 or 30 cans of spray are being confiscated daily from bemused passengers under the Canadian government's Aeronautics Act."

One of the security supervisors told Ms Woolf that the same procedure operates at other Canadian airports. "Although the regulations refer to all mosquito repellents as toxic, he said he makes an exception for roll- ons, and allows them on board the aircraft. The confiscated items are given away annually to the Canadian public".

Although mosquitoes can be vile in Canada in summer, it seems a bit extreme to kit the locals out with repellents at the expense of tourists. A stick of Mosi-guard repellent (which carries a big NON TOXIC notice on it) if you can top Ms Woolf's tale by having had something even less offensive confiscated. And my apologies if you were the one at Gatwick with the Camping Gaz cylinder.

Fidel Castro is unlikely to be impressed by the new Thomson Faraway Shores brochure, which devotes a dozen glossy pages to holidays in Cuba. Britain's biggest tour operator has decided to inject some humour into its description of the cash-starved Caribbean island. So it points out that "One of Fidel Castro's names is 'the air hostess', because he's always asking the Cubans to tighten their belts".

Dr Castro will also been annoyed that prospective visitors to Cuba have become embroiled in US legislation aimed at tightening the economic boycott against the island. Thomson is refusing to sell holidays there because of the threat of legal action from Washington.

"It's all to do with the Cuban exile vote in the forthcoming American elections", says Charles Newbold, managing director of Thomson. "We and our customers can't get caught in a battle between the US and Cuba. So until the Foreign Office tells us it's OK to sell those holidays, we will wait."

Several other UK operators are continuing to sell holidays in Cuba, in defiance of Washington. Regent Holidays of Bristol has been sending British tourists to the island for 21 years, and at present has a couple of dozen customers in the western hemisphere's last bastion of communism. The company's managing director, Neil Taylor, says that Thomson has over-reacted. "I have enjoyed many holidays in the US, and plan to take many more in the future, gambling that the threat of jail for dealing with Cuba is an empty one."

Mr Taylor says American belligerence against the island actually enhanced Cuban tourism prospects. "The US government bans their citizens from visiting Cuba, which gives it a sort of snob appeal."

So far, Dr Castro has not retaliated by issuing threats against holiday companies that trade with America.

Last weekend, the M5 was a mess. Traffic on the motorway south-west from Bristol to Devon and Cornwall tailed back for 25 miles. The front page story on the Western Morning News on Monday asked "Is this the way to treat our visitors?". But having tried to travel to Newquay by train, I suggest that the motorists stuck in the queues were the lucky ones.

Whoever devises the train schedules to Newquay must have a grudge against the resort, or rail travellers, or both. On Sunday I found myself in the City of London, needing to travel to Cornwall. I tried to call Great Western Trains, but the company that has taken over services to the West Country is not listed with Directory Enquiries; try dialling 192, ask for Great Western Trains in Paddington or Plymouth, Swindon or Swansea, and you will draw a blank. So instead I went to nearby Liverpool Street station and bought a ticket to Newquay. It was 12 noon.

Unhappily, the last train of the day to Newquay left Paddington 15 minutes later. Without a helicopter, it is impossible to travel from Liverpool Street to Paddington in a quarter of an hour. So after lunch I caught a train as far as Par, and paid pounds 20 for a taxi to cover the stretch to Newquay for which I had a redundant ticket.

For the return journey, I vowed to catch the first train, and woke at dawn. Newquay station was packed, mostly with foreign visitors heading to London. We arrived at the connecting station, Par five minutes before the Penzance to Paddington express was due, and waited expectantly.

There were plenty of empty seats - you could count them as the train sailed past without stopping. The non-connecting trains are operated by a different companies. Perhaps their managers spend longer investigating the prospects for privatisation windfalls than on scheduling services to meet demand. Everyone settled down to an 80-minute wait for the next train. I spent the time on the amenity-free platform of Par station writing this column and trying not to think of silly puns (Par for the course, feeling below Par, etc). Most of the overseas tourists spent the time planning their next holiday, probably to a country where the railways are not such a shambolic joke.

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