Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Travel at the sharp end

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South Canterbury is bathed in sunlight today. There's a fresh breeze keeping the temperature down but at least it's straight from the sea; if not 100 per cent pure, then near enough. I find myself dragging in great gulps of it....I'm still relishing the fact that I'm not breathing in the air of Cairo. If that air had been any thicker you'd have to eat it.

But more of the Middle East and North Africa in blogs to come. For now I am wondering if anyone's feeling less than thrilled at being at work today than I am. Outside people are splashing around in Lake Tekapo's chilly depths or hurtling around the Octopus ride at Timaru's Caroline Bay carnival while wishing they hadn't consumed that second hotdog.

Ungraciously I can think of a few people worse off than me....anyone in the United States trying to promote international tourism for one thing.

Would I travel to the US at present for a holiday, with the thought of body searches, three-hour waits for flights and the prospect of no in-flight entertainment? No way. Even in the interests of national and/or my personal security I'd be choosing somewhere else.

Will the new security measures for flights to the US spread to other airlines and destinations? It's possible but after spending the last four weeks or so flying to and from the Middle East I can say that the only consistent aspect of airline security checks is the inconsistency.

If nations, airports and airlines really are serious about security how come screening standards seem to vary so hugely? In New Zealand and Australia we are still stuffing all our gels, liquids and creams into ziplock bags but in Dubai, an enormously busy airline hub, no-one wants to know, despite the signs to the contrary. In smaller airports my hand luggage passed through the x-ray machine while the security staff chatted and in one case the man monitoring the screen seemed to be asleep.

My new titanium hip sets all the alarms going – I get patted down in Auckland, waved through in Cairo. In Bangkok on the flight heading for Christchurch via Sydney our hand luggage was searched by hand as well as x-rayed but the girl checking mine only opened one of the three zippered compartments in my backpack. I had nothing to hide, not so much as a Panadol or a nail file but what if I had? The South African mother and daughter beside me complained so much about having to lift their enormously heavy carry - on trolley case onto the table that the man intending to check it sent them on their way.

In the course of nine international flights I received at least two metal knives in my cutlery sets, while at other times my plastic knives were accompanied by forks with sharp prongs. While one airport insisted on my gift pack of miniature perfume bottles be removed from their box and tipped into a plastic bag, another was letting passengers carry on full bottles of booze.

The disparate range of regulations is confusing, the results chaotic. Passengers who start off with no ziplock bag of goodies because their own airport did not ask for one suddenly find themselves at the end of their journey facing a belligerent Australian security man demanding to know why they haven't got one. Dressmaking scissors are unearthed on a domestic flight between Auckland and Christchurch after their owner has just travelled half way around the world oblivious to the fact they were in their hand luggage all the time.

Maybe, this latest scare will be a good time for a rethink, a standardisation of security measures and a decision about whether everyone, not just security official wanting to star in the next series of Border Control, is going to take them seriously or not.

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