Yesterday was another successful day for anti terrorism. I was especially grateful as I was travelling to and from Manchester by public transport in order to make a speech there. We should not tempt providence or take things for granted. The anti terrorist police and Intelligence services are to be congratulated for all the networks and plots they have intercepted to make us safer.
I wanted to get to Manchester and back as quickly as I could. For reasons I will describe tomorrow that meant I had to go by car and plane, rather than by car and train. It meant experiencing once again the security and customer handling at Heathrow. There are a few questions I would like to raise about physical security, as opposed to intelligence and policing work.
The main worry yesterday at airport security seemed to be women who might be concealing bombs in their scarves or boots. They all had to take these off and put them through a scanner. All of us had to remove our belts, any men wearing boots had to take those off but shoes were fine, and all had to remove coats and jackets. No-one was found with anything wrong whilst I was in the queue. Meanwhile at the station no-one was searched for anything, despite the fact that terrorists have attacked trains as well as planes in recent years. The first question I have is why do we treat air and train travel so differently?
Because it took each person time to take some of their clothes off, find enough trays to put it all in, and prepare for the scanners,there was a long queue. There were not enough scanners available and open. When you choose which queue to join it is not possible to see which queue is longest, owing to the way the queues were controlled, so some people had to wait longer than others depending on the lottery of the queues. Why can’t they provide more channels? Why can’t they have proper overall queue control so waiting times are fair?
Security also required three different checks on the boarding card of each pasenger. We had to queue to have the boarding pass checked before being allowed into the security check area, we had to queue again to have the boarding card re checked to get from the security check area to the gates, and then again to gain access to the plane from the gate. I see the obvious need to check everyone at the point where they board the plane, to make sure we know who is on the plane, to check they are on the right plane and have paid the fare. I assume they also want to have a check on every person first going airside, so they can make sure all who reach airside can be accounted for. Why do they also need a third check on the boarding card?
As someone who has urged splitting up the monopoly over London airports I hope that when these main airports are in different ownership we will see improvements in the way security checks are handled. It is, after all, taking time away from shopping at the airport, and putting passengers into a mood where they are less likely to be willing to spend.