Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mixed Emotions

I made it to Perth. I have had something to eat and I am in a motel room
near the airport. It has been quite a mixed day, where do I begin. The
starter motor arrived and it was easily fitted by me and it worked as
advertised. This solved the major problem and enabled me to move the
caravan into storage and get myself to Learmonth Airport in time for my
flight to Perth. Learmonth is a laughably small airport, they get a
couple of jets a day and a couple of helicopters. I have done circuits
there in the Trike and whilst it is a huge expanse of concrete and
impressive from the air, its not very exciting at the terminal shed.
Unbeknownst to any rational human beings left though, it is obviously
the heartland for the filthy terrorists as is only too obvious when you
look at the airport and see that there are 2 people working in the bar,
3 looking after the baggage, check-in, aircraft and passengers and a
totally insane 6 security staff. The security staff were made up of the
usual type, too old to retrain for a skilful job and too old to work at
McDonald's or too young to interested in a career, and so they stand
around the high tech security equipment trying to intimidate the
passengers and justify their positions. Lets face it, these are not the
sort of people that guard the president or anything important, if there
really was a credible threat then planes would be blowing up left right
and center and people would be stabbing fellow passengers and staff on
every flight with the toothpicks and pens that they smuggled on board.
These security people are useless and only serve two purposes, firstly
so that the powers that be can point to some practical thing that they
are doing somewhere, because lets face it neither the foreign policy or
the applied security procedures are actually likely to do anything to
reduce the likelihood of aviation targeted terrorist attacks and second
so that when the inevitable (and not preventable with this kind of
useless security) attack takes place they powers that be can blame it on
the security staff on duty.

I have travelled allot around the world with my laptop and its leather
briefcase in the last 15 years, actually there have been several laptops
and briefcases. In the early days I used to carry a forever useful set
of jewellers screwdrivers and a small pocket knife with me but I got
sick of having them confiscated on the roughly 50% of occasions that
they were discovered. I have lost count of the times when they
confiscated a small screwdriver from me in Perth Airport and then as we
are served lunch less than an hour later on the flight I am given a full
compliment of metal cutlery, it makes me want to cry that humanity is so
stupid that we engage in this sort of behaviour.

Today I was travelling from Exmouth to Perth on a SkyWest Jet with 2
small pieces of hand luggage, my laptop in a leather laptop bag and a
small canvas bag with some clothes and some shells and fossils I
collected in it. Neither item weighs more than 7KG and they would both
fit into the overhead lockers just fine, I know because I have done it
on many occasions. First I was told that my laptop was too heavy to take
inside the plane, I was solemnly told it was dangerous because of its
weight and had to be checked into the hold. I was a little surprised as
this is a new one for me, I though that for example a brick was a weapon
because it could be used as a primitive bludgeoning tool and we all know
about the many stories of planes being hijacked by brick wielding , er
brickmen I suppose and how so many banks have been robbed and the
general loss of innocent lives lost on account of bricks, but laptops,
sorry I missed that one. So too stunned to argue I allowed a fragile
sticker to be placed on my laptop bag and I watched it loaded onto the
cart with all the suitcases with some trepidations. In my experience a
fragile sticker is often misinterpreted as "makes a cool tinkling noise
when dropped" by illiterate baggage handlers, but I digress. To be fair
the Skywest check-in guy did tell me it would be placed on the top of
the heap gently, when my fingers were slow to release the bags handle as
I passed it over the counter.
I needed a drink at this point so carrying only the tiny little canvas
shoulder bag I had a beer in the bar before passing through security
when they called the flight for boarding. Security made me remove my
belt and put everything I had though the X-ray machine. I was reading a
paperback book and I was careless enough to walk though the scanner with
the book in my hand!. There was no beep as I had nothing metallic on me,
but I was barred entry on account of the paperback I was holding. As far
as the security staff were concerned it could have been dangerous, so I
invited them to have a look at the book, and not to fear it, but they
sent me back out and made me place the book on the X-ray machine by
itself so it could be irradiated for the betterment of humanity.
Seriously, I know books have long words in them but they really are not
scary or dangerous.
I was just mildly irritated at this point when an old female who should
not be working with people asked me what was in my bag as she handed it
back to me, I mentioned shells and clothes and fossils. She made me
empty the bag and seemed to take delight in identifying the larger items
as prohibited by federal law and not going with me. To be completely
honest it never occurred to me that if I turned up with a fossil of a 3
million year old sea creature inside a lump of limestone the size of an
orange that it was going to label me a threat to society, I pointed this
out. To no avail, it was a rock, it was a blunt instrument, it could be
used as a weapon. It was starting to occur to me that it could indeed me
deployed against the head of a security guard in an airport but I would
be worried about being allowed to board the plane and more worried about
damaging a perfectly preserved example of life before security guards
I was so calm and rational and I pleaded for them to let me on the plane
with my bag. No way. Leave it here with us and we will dispose of it or
keep it and don't board the flight were my only options. I could see
them loading the baggage onto the plane just beyond the gate and I knew
that once the manifest was done and the doors closed they were not
allowed to put anything else into the hold of the aircraft. I begged the
security staff to ask a member of the airline staff to put my bag in the
hold before they completed loading, they would not help.
In the end once all the bags were loaded and the passengers boarding I
finally got hold of one of the check-in staff and asked if they could
put my bag in the hold and was told it was now impossible as the
manifest was done and the doors closed. I knew this was coming and was
past believing that things were going to go my way, I can understand how
putting things onto a plane but not recording them is an obvious
security threat and like most people when faced with a rational argument
did not feel entitled to argue the point. I was told to write down my
address in Perth on a bit of paper and it would be sent down as
unattended baggage the next day. I was just writing down Perth
International Airport and my flight number of the next day and starting
to explain the situation when a female SkyWest employee emerged from an
office behind the counter and asked how much the bag weighed, it was
duly weighed and found to be just over 7KG. Perhaps in the hope that It
would illicit a marriage proposal from me she instructed her obviously
subordinate employee to load the bag onto the aircraft despite his
protests about hatches and manifests. I could have jumped over the
counter and hugged her, but I know inappropriate behaviour and so
restrained myself to just a heartfelt thanks. It was a victory for
sanity over insanity and it was a clear example of why we need
management around to make those difficult decisions.
On my way through security with no hand luggage the security staff
seemed pleased with their work, I heard the old female say "he said he
only had shells!" as I approached and you could see that the highlight
of her day, or possibly week was preventing a would be terrorist like me
from carrying out my terrible plan to transport a small fossil by air.
I guess my looks must have been pretty dirty because I got a unified
chorus of "We don't make the rules" and "It's federal Law" and "I'm just
doing my job" as I passed through. I couldn't resist looking
thoughtfully at my very heavily buckled trouser belt as they passed it
back to me and asking if they were sure that it couldn't be used as a
weapon because I felt that if it was a small fossil versus a heavy
buckled leather belt the later was probably the more dangerous weapon,
but not having been to security guard school I was unfamiliar with their
perverse brand of logic and so would defer to their educated opinion.
The final comment from the last guard was that they did not choose the
rules and my reply was that they choose how to enforce them and my issue
was never with the law, my issue was with the wholly inconsistent and
subjective manner that each different security guard chooses to
interpret them.
The flight was fine and despite being down a crew member the cabin staff
performed admirably and in spite of the last minute flight cancellation
and the extra hassle for me as a result I am not upset with SkyWest at
the end of the day.
Tomorrow I am a guest of Malaysian airlines and I will be sure to make
sure that anything even remotely dangerous is checked in, even my reach
toothbrush, which would no doubt be classified as a weapon after the
operation needed to remove it from the backside of a well deserving
security guard.

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