The trials and tribulations of frequent travelers


(Posted 21st September 2013)

This rant, as some will see it, had time to settle down but in the cold light of day, anger and frustration remains in place and yes, it is about accessibility and airport security once again.

In Entebbe, be it in pouring rain or in scorching heat, one has to go by foot up the ramp to the departure level, unassisted that is pushing the weight of the suitcases at a steep gradient and those elderly couples travelling together, I pity the wife should ever her husband’s heart give way while being subjected to such nitwitty procedures.

In Entebbe one has to run a gauntlet of not one, not two but three check points, each one clearly not trusting the previous one where their own colleagues ought to do the job. Entebbe remains the only airport where paranoid security officials prohibit vehicular traffic to the terminal, VIP’s and diplomats of course exempted, while in airports with exactly the same threat levels, like Nairobi for instance, vehicles continue to drop off, as they do in Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Kigali as well as in other major airports where security probably has graduated on top of their class, as opposed to …

When driving to the airport, at random intervals, traffic is flagged down already before the CAA headquarters, passengers at times politely and at times with barked orders told to proceed to for the body scan while, often very superficially, the car is searched. Again, rain or shine don’t matter, for after all who gives a hoot if our visitors end up at the terminal soaked to the skin – good riddance, you have spent your money and begone?

The second check point is at the entrance of the terminal before reaching the check in counters. While I agree that the guys at the perimeter cannot be trusted, casual as they often are, asking ‘are you armed’ and then taking the answer ‘No Sir’ for granted, it is at the terminal entrance that a single entry check point should clear everyone.

Not so … belt off, shoes off and in a state of often half undress, and I am referring to such people whose trousers already hang half way down in a weird sort of fashion statement, holding on to their pants with one hand while tiptoeing on – and yes that is a regular sight too – socks full of holes through the body scanner.

All dressed up again, if that state can be called dressed, one then goes into the check in area, gets a boarding pass, present oneself at immigration and then, duty free shopping, a quick bite or into the Premium Lounge until the flight is called. And then the third gauntlet strikes. Another check point. Not as many as a trip to Nigeria put me through when I counted a total of 7 different check points for different sorts of formalities, but nevertheless a third one.

And it is often there that the nitwittery strikes with force. Where they pick some of the personnel will forever be a puzzle ultimately harder to solve than the crossword in the Times.

At my age, and I make no apologies for that, my skin on aircraft turns dry fast and I always carry enough lotion with me to be certain it lasts me through flights of up to 9 hours at a go. So on my last experience one of those picked from wherever and taught whatever in her course, took exception to me carrying a plastic container which read 200 ml. That she claimed was not permitted, only 100 ml per container was allowed. I shook the thing, and clearly, for someone with a brain at least, it was clear that it contained perhaps a third of the initial content – and by the way never challenged before, not by her colleagues, not in Kigali, not in Nairobi, not in Johannesburg and not in Dubai where recent trips took me. No she insisted it was illegal to carry a container reading 200 ml regardless of the content. If looks could kill she would have fallen there and then and I guess she knew that because my eyes threw fire at her and she backed off, consulting with a more senior colleague whom I had encountered many times before. He listened, came over, shock the container, grinned at me as only two conspirators can, told me to stow it and get going, have a good flight and all and ending with a shrug in her direction, cowed behind the scanning machine by then, saying ‘she’s new’ … ok, but when you are new young lady, don’t mess about with things you clearly know nothing or too little about. I do not carry sharps, not matches nor lighters – no problem as a non smoker – and make sure my hand baggage contains nothing prohibited, including NOT exceeding the limit of liquids I carry.

The other day, she was on duty again and shrunk away instantly when seeing me, expecting my wrath to have remained, and while it had blown over, she was wise to let her colleague, again the same I mentioned before, attend to me who waived me through majestically, lording over his check point.

On a different occasion, that experience being in Kigali, I had carried a few apples in my hand baggage, courtesy of a fruit basket a day which I could never finish and so I packed 4 apples I had kept. At the upper level check point an equally young and probably inexperienced fellow took some issue with my apples. Why was I carrying 4 apples? Not that it was any of his business I told him but to eat them, I like apples. He toyed with one for a while, unsure if he should perhaps invent a rule that I could only take three and the one in his hand might have to be forfeit but my own hand was firmly stuck out, demanding my apple back. Somewhat annoyed he then asked to check a carry on back he had already cleared and lo and behold, found a small safety pin, perhaps not even an inch long, on which a flower was still fastened, from a function I had attended. And he had found his casus belli demanding that the offending object was illegal could harm the crew, serve as a tool of whatever he thought me capable of on board, after all I was a man eating apples and not wanting to share even one, and relieved me of that fearsome weapon.

I had written before about Kigali and by and large my comments seem to have born fruits as clearly the level of training is now hugely improved and the grim faces with barking voices made way to a rather more polite format of please and thank you, well done Kigali for that, except for that one … regular night guard at a faraway place with lots of rain and no relief for weekends would be my wish for him.

And about apples, a good journalist friend of mine from Canada, for her obsession to travel with apples – to eat no less and not to throw at annoying officials – was for a while regularly pulled over when entering the United States as clearly there must have been a mark against her name in the data base … Beware of apple addict probably or How can we be sure it is apples and peaches in disguise? Eventually whatever it was either expired or in the end they realized that her tongue could cut as sharp as a knife, even if, or perhaps because of being marched under armed guard at one time to an interrogation room with the poor chap then making it worse by repeatedly calling her Ma’am. We laughed about it of course but also talked about the other side of things, considering the many scandals involving the TSA and tales of incompetence, corruption, criminal activities by TSA staff, it seems that not even the United States are immune against the phenomenon of checking the brain at the front door of the office.

I did enquire in Entebbe what the issue was for not providing a single access security point, like they are in place in the mega airport in Dubai, or the substantially larger than Entebbe airport in Johannesburg, and ‘between you and I, we cannot be sure what enters into the departure lounge, the restaurant and duty free shops so we rather, IN YOUR OWN INTEREST FOR SECURITY, have a third check point before boarding. Oh well, we do need to create jobs, don’t we and passenger comfort and convenience, who the heck cares for them, we got our 40 US Dollars airport tax and have to give them some service for that, don’t we.

Tongue in cheek, I know, but nevertheless, a constant source of annoyance. And then of course comes the issue with the water … in the Seychelles, as long as one is prepared to drink from the bottle, one can take it through security and thanks for that, warm and humid as it is while waiting for the flight to board. In Johannesburg recently I had about a quarter of a litre bottle left and the security lady, taking one look at it, waved me on. In contrast in Entebbe even unopened bottles must be thrown away, and those who dehydrate quickly, brace yourself for a long thirsty wait if you happen to be on a long haul flight and through security early. It can be well over an hour without a drop, risking people’s health but then again, what concern for airport security would that be. Should one collapse he or she would be wheeled away and of course, NO IT WASN’T ME nor my nitwittery over a bottle of water, just purchases across the corridor in the cafeteria for that matter..

In Reunion recently, my experience was crowned though. I had a bit in a bottle left, stuck into the side pocket of my bagpack, and had emptied it just before going through security, where I duly dumped it in the container before unscrewing a second still full and sealed bottle to have a another sip. Well, that was to be the last one I was told, throw the bottle away and move on … with the flight still an hour and twenty minutes away, I asked how one could get on without a sip of water once in a while and without batting an eye lid did one of the security guys, the one who told me to toss my bottle, directed me to the nearby cafeteria saying ‘you can buy water there’ … at several Euros a small bottle, surely there must be a global arrangement in place between vendors of water at airports and those who under the implied threat of force relief passengers of their water at the check point.

On the upside, it was a single entry check point in Reunion as it was in Johannesburg, as it is in Dubai for that matter, all airports larger and busier than Entebbe and yet, our own clearly invent their own game, for whatever purpose. Terminal Four in Nairobi, when opening, will have incorporated all those passenger complaints and offer a single entry security check, after which passengers remain unaccosted and fully dressed, unlike in Entebbe which seem to be immune to complaints and demands by airlines for a more passenger friendly environment.

Oh well, I ranted and now you know why. The trials and tribulations of frequent travelers and thanks a lot for no one being able to read my mind when I am subjected to run those gauntlets or else I’d have been on my last trip ever and sit in a cell in Luzira with the key thrown away for imagining murders most foul.

Happy Landing, well earned after being subjected to all that. And should I not arrive as expected on my next trip, perhaps someone’s vengeance has caught up with me at an airport somewhere near you.

2 Responses

  1. These frustrations were very instrumental in guiding some life changes for me between 2008 and 2011! I’ve suggested to some people in charge in Uganda that they take as many of the people they employ as possible to other countries to experience what it’s like over there – and maybe they’re doing so or one day they will.

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