Security Theater Goes World-Wide (Iceland + Palau Dept)
Previous dispatches here, with related links. Story so far: I mentioned an instance of "security theater" being scaled back and asked for other good-news reports. No such luck! The reports that have rolled in are of a different type. Let's start with one from the distant north:
A security mystery -- at least, new to me. Deplane in Iceland (Icelandair, JFK-KEF), and you are immediately put through a clone of the security line you went through just before boarding: shoes off, laptops out, metal detector, x-ray conveyer belt. The woman in front of me had her little Icelandair bottle of water confiscated and said, baffled as the rest of us, "But we're getting OFF the plane!?"
That was the last security I saw anywhere in Iceland. Passport control and customs were separate (and minimal). No metal detectors anywhere else. You can walk right up to the Prime Minister's door (I saw it). For that matter, much of the police force has been laid off because of the fiscal crisis.
One Icelander said he thought it had to do with the U.S. not being a Schengen country and KEF being a gateway airport. But I don't get it. I've landed in lots of European airports and never gone through post-flight security before.... In my imagination, it's the result of the relevant Icelandic official being mistreated at JFK, but [the correspondent's wife] points out that half our fellow passengers were Icelandic.
And from a tropical paradise:
I live in the Republic of Palau, in the western Pacific. All of the American-affiliated islands out here in Micronesia are served by Continental Airlines. One of their requirements is that, at intermediate stops between islands, half of the coach-class passengers have to get off the plane so a "cabin security check" can be conducted. (This doesn't apply to BusinessFirst passengers, though.) Even families with infants have to get off the plane, sometimes at 3AM, and wait for the "security check" to be completed.
From a long series of e-mails with Continental and TSA I found out the reason for this requirement.
There are several island groups in Micronesia which Continental serves, including the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. All are "independent" countries politically but fully dependent on America's taxpayers for their economic sustainability. Continental's hub for the Micronesia route is Guam, a US territory. The TSA handles airport security on Guam but has no jurisdiction over airports in the other island nations. Since the TSA believes security in those islands doesn't comply with their standards (more on that below) they require Continental to do a "cabin security search" at each intermediate stop on their multi-island flights.
For example, if a flight originates here in Palau, where I live, and stops on Yap before landing on Guam, half of the coach class passengers are required to get off the plane with their hand carried baggage (and infant children) so the plane can be searched for contraband or whatever. Maybe that can be justified, but the security theater begins with flights originating on Guam. There the TSA (presumably) assures the airlines, flight crews and passengers of the security of departing flights, but then they require half of the passengers to get off the plane at the first outbound on Yap for a cabin search.
I wrote a message to TSA pointing that out and asking whether they were in effect indicting their own personnel and procedures on Guam by requiring searches of presumably secure aircraft they just finished checking. They declined to respond to that message, and (out of fear of the "no-fly list") I decided not to pursue the issue.
One reason I declined to pursue it is that, a few years ago, a friend of mine ran seriously afoul of the TSA. I was on a Guam flight that landed on Yap, and when the Yap passengers boarded the plane my friend came on board and sat across the aisle from me. He told me a story of having landed on Yap four days previously and having been thrown off the plane by two people dressed in civilian clothing, because he vocally criticized the procedure I outlined above. He had to sit in a hotel room on Yap for four days waiting for the next semi-weekly flight to come through. He couldn't identify the people who tossed him off, but he believed they were air marshals, FBI people or some such. Being totally dependent on Continental Airlines to get anywhere between the islands in this region, nobody wants to challenge TSA and perhaps get on the dreaded no-fly list.
By the way, in regard to local airport security, it's not only as good as TSA's level but in some cases better. Our hand-carry bags are physically checked every time, not just x-rayed, and frequently our checked bags are opened and checked as well. We have to take off our shoes and belts, too, and carry the standard one-quart bag for toothpaste etc...
We're still being told to get off the planes out here, though.
Next in the queue: Similar reports from Hawaii, Philadelphia, and Finland.