Simon Calder: This extra security suffers from a fundamental flaw - Simon Calder - Travel - The Independent

Simon Calder: This extra security suffers from a fundamental flaw

Shortly before Christmas a couple of years ago, I approached the check-in desk at a Spanish airport. Because my luggage had been misrouted on the outbound trip, obliging me to buy new clothes, I had an extra bag, and was preparing to pay to check it in. Just as I reached the desk a colleague phoned. Distracted, I handed over my documents – and found myself clutching the boarding pass, even though I was plainly breaching the rules on cabin baggage. But as the second bag went through the X-ray machine, I remembered I had a bottle of wine that would now surely be confiscated.

"What's that?" asked the supervisor, gesturing at the bottle-shaped object on his screen.

"It's a bottle of wine, and it's yours, Señor."

Instead of rummaging through the bag and removing the offending item, he waved me, and it, through.

Later, I raised a glass to his health – and that of airline passengers – thankful that common sense had temporarily prevailed.

Aviation security depends, we are told, on screening of every passenger and the removal of any object, from knitting needles to over-large tubes of toothpaste, that could conceivably be used in terrorism. We are assured that intelligence agencies are working quietly behind the scenes to identify and confound our enemies. But, to use the menacing mantra of the IRA, terrorists need to be lucky only once; we need to be lucky all the time.

The price of freedom to travel is eternal vigilance and – if you are male and flying to the US any time soon – experiencing what for many of us is unusual and discomfiting: a stranger stroking your buttocks while simultaneously rubbing his forearm against your groin.

As it happens, that is a technique I mastered many years ago while working in security at Gatwick, when such "pat-down" searches were conducted only on passengers travelling to Tel Aviv and Belfast, the flights regarded as requiring special scrutiny.

As from Boxing Day, the 25,000 passengers who fly from the UK to the US on the average day are all regarded as sufficiently suspicious to warrant such intrusive scrutiny. Furthermore, they can be trusted only with one piece of hand luggage, which must be searched twice before they are allowed on board a transatlantic jet. And, like sinful schoolchildren, they must sit still, strapped in and with nothing covering their laps, for the final hour of each flight. Such is the effect of the feeble and inept attempt to murder nearly 300 people on Northwest Airlines flight 253.

We are connected with America by more than just the best air links, and the "special relationship". We are also allied in military terms, which turns UK-US flights into trophies in the mangled morality of some terrorists.

After the Lockerbie bombing, 21 years ago last week, airlines started to match the passenger manifest with checked-in baggage. After 9/11, the American authorities started to take a much tougher attitude to both airport security and passenger background. Soon afterwards the British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid was apprehended, and consequently passengers often have to remove their footwear. And after the "liquid bomb plot" in 2006, a limit of 100ml on everything from shampoo to champagne was imposed.

Whatever extra hurdles are introduced permanently after the Christmas Day attack, they will suffer from the same intellectual flaw as all the existing formalities: they are pointless for the 99.999 per cent of passengers who hold no evil intent in their hearts and simply want to fly safely on holiday, business or a family visit.

Remove 100 per cent screening, say the authorities, and you open opportunities for terrorists. Yet the suspect who flew from Lagos via Amsterdam to Detroit breezed through the checks. Prospective terrorists would face far greater uncertainty if some flights were dispatched with a minimum of screening, while others received the full El Al treatment. And talking of the Israeli national airline: it has evaded terrorist attacks by assiduously "profiling" every passenger, looking at background and behaviour to identify prospective threats.

Plenty of young men of Middle Eastern, African and Asian appearance will say that they are already unofficially profiled, and they are understandably alarmed at encountering suspicion on grounds of skin colour, religion and national origin. But for profiling to be effective it must cast its net more widely, for example regarding travel journalists with distrust due to the propensity to travel alone, often at short notice, in the interests of "research".

Questions will be asked in Washington about how someone on an American "watch list" was allowed to board a US-bound flight – yet there have been plenty of false alarms involving British travellers, such as diverting a flight to Washington because it was carrying the peace campaigner Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens).

Britain has its recent past to blame for being firmly in the terrorists' sights. We are a nation constantly looking over our shoulder. But when I glance behind me, I would prefer to find an inquiring official asking intelligent questions rather than a strange man caressing my bottom.

New security measures

The revised security measures for flights into the US

*At departure: must arrive early, extra bag checks, and vigorous body pat-down searches.

*Strict enforcement of limit on one item of hand luggage.

*Wrapped presents in hand luggage must be unwrapped at the gate.

*During last hour before landing in the US: no access to bathroom, no moving from seat, no access to hand luggage, no items (including blankets) on lap.

*Some passengers travelling into the US have seen bans on the use of electronic equipment, including laptops and MP3 players.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week