Thursday, November 01, 2007

Another oenophile terrorist thwarted

Something odd happened to me yesterday. Well, I say odd, but I am using the word highly euphemistically for "really really fucking annoying".

I was flying home from Malta (of which brief impressions will follow), and having not had a moment to do any shopping while there, I bought a couple of gifts at the airport (which also had the added benefit of using up my remaining Maltese coinage). A couple of books for Paula, a toy for Bogi, and a nice bottle of Maltese wine for me and Erika to enjoy. I then boarded my plane to Frankfurt (yes, the route from Malta to Bucharest was via Frankfurt, which is a bit off course to be honest, but since I once flew from Bucharest to Kiev via Amsterdam, it didn't feel that excessive).

In Frankfurt, I had a couple of hours to kill, and so wandered round the bit of the terminal that I was confined to for a while before sitting down to enjoy a delicious weissbier. I thought about seeing if I could find something more to do in an area of the airport outside Terminal 1B, but realised that I wouldn't be able to come back through the security line with a bottle of wine in my bag, given the current War on Liquids (TM). So, having consumed my tasty cloudy beverage I headed down to the gate for Bucharest. This is where things started to go wrong. Although I was in the same bit of the airport in which I had arrived (what I took to be the internal EU terminal) there, just for gate 56, was a security check. I knew there would be trouble. Each person I spoke too looked sadly at me as I explained that I had bought the wine in Malta airport and hadn't been anywhere outside any security zone since, but it was clear I was fighting a losing battle. I was eventually bumped up to the head honcho on duty who patiently explained again that I couldn't keep the wine. I, in turn, patiently explained for the 5th time that I had bought the wine in the airport and that I was (after all) travelling within the EU, but he wouldn't be budged. Even when I managed to locate the receipt which stated clearly the time, date, and location where the wine had been bought it was still not possible. I asked him why it was that there was a security check at this particular gate, and how one could possibly buy wine in the aiprort and not have it brutally stolen from one by officious jobsworth anti-terrorism consultants. He was unable to answer either question. In the end, resigned to losing my wine, I told him to please take it home and drink it since somebody at least would get the benefit from it. He told me that too was against the rules, and it would have to be thrown away. What a ridiculous mad fucking waste. It wasn't especially expensive, but it's just the principle of the thing. The really upsetting thing was that I had even considered this anti-liquidist policy when I purchased it but reasoned that it couldn't possibly be a problem.

Anyway, I am left with two questions:

1. Why, in the EU bit of Frankfurt airport, is the only gate which has a security gate that which is being used for a flight to Bucharest? Romania is, after all, just as much an EU country as Germany, and ought not to be discriminated against. It is clear that they always put the Bucharest flight through this system, since my gate had been told to me when I'd checked in - in Malta about 7 hours before the Frankfurt - Bucharest flight took off - and nothing had been changed. I am, to say the least, suspicious of the reasons.
2. Why, despite all the evidence that seems to be out there suggesting that constructing a bomb on a plane using liquids mixed together in the bogs is utterly impossible, is there still this stupid War on Liquids? Is it (a) because the powers that be want to make sure we go through life living in fear, looking nervously over our shoulders at people swigging from a bottle of water or carrying some shower gel?; or (b) because the people who own the retail outlets in airport terminals who are raking in the cash from the sales of overpriced water and other beverages are onto a nice little earner and have successfully lobbied for this rule not to be rescinded? I can see no other possibility bar these two.

"Odd" indeed.

12 comments:

Emil Perhinschi said...

Sorry to disappoint you, but it is possible to prepare explosives from innocent-looking liquids without employing bulky equipment. In Rumania a few of the methods used to be in the 8th grade chemistry manuals, and in the chemistry clubs for the 5th to 8th graders the preparation of minute amounts of nitroglycerin was considered a fun and educational activity. Of course, it was about motivating kids, not about training pimple-faced terrorists: this happened a long time ago, back in the time when science was hands-on, not just a flash animation on a computer screen.

It's possible to prepare explosives even from innocent-looking solids ... not strong enough to blow a plane apart, but strong enough to make a hole in the wall, which at 10000 meters up it's almost the same thing.

... but you might be right: if the "terrorism" threat was the reason for banning fluids, they would have to dope the passengers and store them in Kevlar boxes: that's the only way to stop all potential threats to a plane.

Jules Verne should be banned, too ... lots of recipes for preparing explosives .

Andy H said...

Having read numerous articles like this one, I'm not so sure Emil. Though I have heard that solids are far more liable to be dangerous.

(Thanks for commenting by the way)

Catherine said...

I could have sworn they all took the wine home with them!

I bet they would in Zagreb...

Florin said...

As far as I can remember, last time a I flu to London from Frankfurt (about an year ago) I also had to go through a security check. And on the flight back too, and I have to say the one on the Heathrow counts among the most annoying I've ever had...
Anyway, I thing the fact that is about flights between 2 UE member states it's not relevant. It's the Schengen space that makes the difference, to which, needless to say, neither Romania nor UK belong.

Emil Perhinschi said...

"Having read numerous articles like this one, I'm not so sure Emil."

Well, for "professional" explosives, yes. For stuff that would make a big enough boom to cause irreparable damage to a plane, allow me to have doubts. Probably I should ask my former 7th grade chemistry professor why did she trade me to the Geography club some 20 years ago, and if that had anything to do with me asking about some of Jules Verne's recipes ...

My guess is that the airport security guys and gals have a lot of responsibility and almost nothing that they are able do in case somebody really tries to do harm, so they are only covering their asses with half-witted "security" measures; don't assign to malice what you can assign to incompetence :)

Andy H said...

Just to be clear, I'm not actually upset with the people working at the security gates. They are just doing their job and enforcing the law (which is that you can't bring liquids on the plane). I do think the law is stupid, and a waste of time, and could (at the very least) be relaxed somewhat. And I do think that the presence of the security gate on a flight to Bucharest (uniquely in that terminal) is odd (both literally and euphemistically). But I don't have a problem with the people who took my wine, just with the system that forces them to do so.

Florin: Absolutely, Heathrow is terrible for this sort of stuff. And the German security people who took my wine were at least polite and almost apologetic, which I suspect wouldn't have been the case in LHR.

Emil Perhinschi said...

"And I do think that the presence of the security gate on a flight to Bucharest (uniquely in that terminal) is odd (both literally and euphemistically)."

No, it's not really odd. Since during the 1890s, when Rumania refused to simply surrender the oil fields, the love affair between the West and the cute savages from the lower Danube ended. Now Rumania traded the oil and gas reserves for the EU entry, and even buys back the fuel at prices that are among the highest in Europe, which only shows how evil Rumanians are :).

The security gate must to be there: as of now, Rumania pays more to EU than it gets back, so you would not want to have those barbarians feel like they really have a stake in EU and ask for a fair deal.

dumneazu said...

When I flew from Budapest to London in October the security personnel at Budapest Ferihegy relieved me of my pricey cimbalom tuning key, stating that it could be used as a weapon. They realized that it was a musical instrument accesory (which is allowed to pass through security) and that it was in a bag with cimbalom sticks... but there was no way that Heathrow was going to allow me in with it. Leaving me with no way to tune my borrowed cimbalom... (in the end I bought and used a drum head tuning key, not perfect, but it worked.)

Emily said...

Last week I flew from Budapest back to America, with a switch in Frankfurt; despite going through a very thorough security check in Budapest I had to go through an even worse one again in Frankfurt. I assumed it was only extra security for people boarding States-bound flights, so it's interesting to hear that within the EU you had to do the same.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

Ah, Frankfurt. Reminds me of the pair of nail scissors I had taken off me at the Fanfest on the Main at the World Cup last year when I wandered in to catch Italy vs Australia on my way to the train station. The sharp-eyed security guards thwarted my cunning plan to go on an indiscriminate multiple stabbing rampage using the apparently harmless weapon. The same breed of well-trained terror-preventionist confiscated my newspaper before entering the stadium in Gelsenkirchen. I can't recall exactly how I was planning to deploy that day's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, but I'm sure it would have been lethal. Thank goodness both tragedies were stopped in time.

gorgeoux said...

It's not about what could be done with liquids, it is about what average people think it could be done with liquids.

The law enforced in EU and in the US has the sole benefit of giving average people the illusion that they are safe.

I had some oddity when I came back from Lisbon last December: my nail polish remover was... removed from me due to the little flame icon the packaging bears.

I asked for the supervisor so that someone explains to me why my deodorant isn't taken, as well, since it bears the same icon.

Of course they couldn't explain a thing and it was my decision to catch the flight or continue the boring conversation.

Having seen most of the airports at least twice, it's all about the people. Never have I been treated the same in the same country, not even in Romania.

Enforcing the law is a matter of a certain security guard's understanding of the law and his/ her level of implication: how much effort would one put into checking you that day, that hour. Nothing else.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

Andy, I had to think of you again at Frankfurt airport just before Xmas, although too late to prevent us losing a $35 bottle of brandy. We'd flown from DC, where we'd bought it in duty free, and went through another security check at Frankfurt for our internal flight to Dresden. When the bottle was taken, I suddenly remembered this blog posting. Apparently, if we'd bought it in the EU, we could have kept it. Also, Dulles airport duty free shouldn't have sold it to us, though we only showed them the ticket to Frankfurt, not Dresden, when we bought it. "Enjoy it this Christmas," I said to the security guy who made a big show of throwing it into a large trash can. A full bottle of brandy thrown away unopened. I hadn't been that close to tears since Lincoln's last playoff loss.