Travel Advisory for People Flying to the British Isles

by Joey deVilla on August 30, 2006

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.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 9:48 am

The terrorists have won. When is the great travelling public going to all stand together and refuse to part with their pens (or whatever else is this week’s utterly arbitrary and pointlessly excluded item)? If everyone said “NO” and refused to travel then the airlines would pretty quickly tell the powers that be to get real (or would go out of business). Good grief!

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 9:50 am

Whoever confiscated the pens for that flight was acting against BAA’s stated policy here: text pdf.

They explicitly list several kinds of pens (including ballpoints and foutain pens) as being okay for carry-on.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 10:21 am

Just think what MacGyver could do with a pen! 🙂

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 10:26 am

Okay, I think I saw a pen used as a weapon in a James Bond film once so maybe there’s some justification there… 😉

You really would think, though, that the flight crew would have some cheap plastic pens with the airline’s logo on them to distribute to the passengers. Wouldn’t you?

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 10:30 am

note to self: carry a pencil.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 10:32 am

Oh sure, a bag of pens. They’re obviously trying to keep those dangerous weapons OFF of the plane. Why don’t you give the flight crew a bag of bombs while you’re at it?! 🙂

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 10:43 am

all the better to stab your way into the cabin, eh? terrorist!!!

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 11:03 am

Just got back to the US after leaving Gatwick. No problem with pens there, and was told specifically that they were okay by staff. We were called to board by gender/zone as well, though not all of us were hand searched. In fact, in spte of the fact that I’m a male in my late 20’s and have a ponytail, I was passed through and the 70 + year old man in front of me was searched instead. Ah, the ways of paranoid security measures are nebulous indeed. US to UK measures are much more stringent and ridiculous, but UK to US seems [relatively] reasonable. Definitely though, these security measures are adding time onto the boarding process, so people should plan to show up at least an hour early.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 11:55 am

AFAIK these strictures are for flights to US only.

Last week I was flying out of Heathrow (to Poland) and pens were no problem. Also, there was no second security check and at the gate.

So this is probably on request by US authorities.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 12:45 pm

Nah, not us policy, our only change is no liquids, pens are fine. It was inept security folks or some that ralyl wanted a bag of 200$ executive pens for ebay.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 12:56 pm

I agree with anonymous. It’s destroying our economy. Forget about bringing play downs, this is how they are winning.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 3:29 pm

Pens contain ink, a liquid. Its a US restriction unfortunately.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 3:47 pm

My mouth contain spit, a liquid. Its a US restriction unfortunately.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 4:37 pm

You will, in the future, need to shit and piss prior to boarding the plane. You must be NPO prior to boarding, just as if this was a surgery. You mustn’t have any liquids or semisolids in your abdominal cavity. Blood is acceptable as a fluid, provided you have less than 5 liters. Individuals who can be verified to exceed the 5 liter limit will need to present a note from their physician stating this fact, and will, at the gate, need to have their blood screened for bomb-making chemicals.

Tears and mucus are permitted, provided they are clear in color, free from offending odors, and present in quantities smaller than 15 mL.

Please allow for additional time at the screening gate while staff administers foley catheters to all passengers to verify the state of bladder emptiness

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 4:55 pm

I think this is only for flights to the US. I am flying Melbourne-Heathrow tonight, and there are no restrictions on hand luggage for my flight. Flights to the US, however, have a ridiculous list of don’ts, can’ts and may nots:

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 5:01 pm

If its a matter of choosing between being

blown up mid-flight or losing a pen, i’ll

lose the pen. wait, if its a montblanc,

i’ll have to get back to you on that.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 8:00 pm

What? They let the chief flight attendant have a pen?
That is an outrage!

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 8:41 pm

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 8:52 pm

Bear in mind that security in Belfast’s airports has always been stricter than the rest of the UK, for obvious reasons. Getting frisked a few times and your luggage repeatedly x-rayed is the norm.

Even back in February — when I finally left the place — my stuff was x-rayed twice, I was frisked at least once and I had to completely empty out my hand luggage.

It doesn’t really seem that excessive after all the heightened security checks during the Troubles. At one point, simply going into town to shop involved almost as much hassle.

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 10:14 pm

Destroying the economy? What do you think people do when they reach their destination and they have no pens, perfume, shampoo and so forth? I think it’s a cleaver scam.

Meanwhile, I want a job as a security officer. If nothing else it means free toiletries for life!

Anonymous August 30, 2006 at 11:52 pm

What about what’s inside our bodies? Are we allowed to keep those liquids? Like stomach acid… now that sounds explosive. Or maybe we drank the liquid explosives, allowing them to mix together in our insides. This carefully measured concoction consists of just the right proportions of each liquid so that the mixture will only become explosive at precisely T+3.5 hours, which is exactly the amount of time it takes for me to get from my house to the airport, past security, and onto the plane. And that’s even calculating the 15 minute mandatory stop at McDonald’s because adding consumption of a Big Mac meal just makes the concoction all the more explosive.

Aaaah, but how does it light you ask? Weellll, for that dears we simply swallow a zippo with an open top exposing its wheel-like ignition mechansim. Tied to it is a string stuck at the back of my throat. Regurgitate the string, yank it, and off we go!

Anonymous August 31, 2006 at 1:45 am

I find stewed green lentils, with plenty of garlic and spices, and washed down with a few pints of gassy lager, serves this purpose very well…

Anonymous August 31, 2006 at 4:26 am

OK…..so you werent allowed pens on the plane. But then they actually handed one around all 172 of you row to row. What the f**k?

If a pen REALLY is a dangerous weapon then why’d they give one out??? This kind of action by our so called security services just shows how retarded they are. I’m sure any creative terrorist with half a brain could get round the measures of these idiots.

Anonymous August 31, 2006 at 4:50 am

The fact that you think those are your only options shows that the terrorists have already won.

Anonymous August 31, 2006 at 10:14 am

Well, National Express bus service did the security job for BA. My bus trip from Plymouth was running a half hour late, but the driver still did his rest stop thing at a shopping centre (one that is in cahoots with the bus company I’m sure). The duration of the rest stop? Why, exactly a half hour. That meant my whole group missed the check-in deadline by 20 minutes (but way more than an hour before departure time)! Next flight, 24 hours away!

Anonymous September 7, 2006 at 2:36 am

Dehydration on flights already adds to cattle-class misery. Now that we are no longer allowed to bring water bottles, not only have the terrorists scored, but so have the airlines who will not hesitate to price-gauge us poor cattle for .5 litres of water. Let’s start the bidding at 5 quid: Anyone??

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