In case you’re flying to the British Isles, please note that the security level at their airports is still at “Severe” (the second-highest level, one just below “Critical”). By now, you’re probably aware of the current restriction that prohibits you from bringing liquids, gels and aerosols onto a plane, but you might not be aware of a couple of other security measures, some of which aren’t published anywhere. I encountered these on my return trip from Belfast.
One Small Carry-Item Only
This restriction is published in an announcement on Belfast International Airport’s site. I also wrote about it in this post: you’re allowed only one carry-on item when boarding a plane at a British airport, and it may not exceed these dimensions:
- 45 cm (about 17 3/4″) long
- 35 cm (about 13 3/4″) wide
- 16 cm (about 6 1/4″) deep
They are incredibly strict about this size restriction. At Belfast, the security people had wooden sizing boxes into which you were asked to place your carry-on item. Their internal dimensions were the same as the maxima listed above; if your carry-on item didn’t fit, they would ask you to remove some items from it (if it was a pliable bag) or check it (if it was something rigid, such as a box).
There were no restrictions on electronics; they had no problem with my having a laptop, spare battery, digital camera and iPod.
Everyone Gets Searched at the Gate
Here’s one thing they don’t tell you: boarding will take much longer than usual because in addition to showing your ID and boarding pass, you have to consent to a search. Remember, this is after you’ve passed through the metal detector and X-ray and gone to the departure lounge.
As rows were called to board the plane, everybody had to go to one of three security stations set in front of the jetway. A security person would ask you to empty your pockets and place the items on a table. If you had a carry-on bag, it would be very thoroughly searched by hand.
Next comes the personal search. I haven’t been frisked so throughly since my check-up at the doctor’s last month. The security guy did a full police-style pat-down search, including checking under the collar and the waistband of my jeans. You’ll also be asked to take off your shoes for inspection.
Continental’s international 757-200s (unfortunately, they use narrow-body jets for second-tier international flight) seat 156 in cattle class and 16 in Hermes tie class. With this many people being searched three at a time, the boarding call started a little over an hour before the scheduled departure. I strongly recommend that you make an allowance for the delay involved with this search.
Pens Will Be Confiscated
Another thing they don’t tell you — in fact, they don’t tell you until the search at the gate: they won’t let you bring a pen onto the plane. I only lost a ball-point pen which I’m pretty sure came from Tucows’ office supply closet. Others were less fortunate; in the bin where confiscated pens were being collected, I saw a at least a dozen “executive” pens, including Crosses and Mont Blancs. If you’re accustomed to carrying an expensive pen, do not take it with you!
Without pens, we had nothing with which to fill out the immigrations and customs forms required for international flights arriving at their first port of entry to the United States. We ended up — all 172 of us — sharing the chief flight attendant’s pen, passing it from row to row.