There is a rising but muted wave of opinion that the BAA, the organisation which runs British Airports, should be dismantled. A lot of people, with a lot of spreadsheets, point to mountains of statistical drudgery in favour of the move, and nobody really cares.
We should split up the BAA, but not for the reasons policy wonks suggest. If they want to figure out how to get the discerning British public onside, all they need to do watch some standup. If it’s bad enough, they should find someone making incredibly passé jokes about airport security nightmares.
There is a reason that these jokes are tired- because airport security nightmares happens all the f*cking time. As I write this, I have just emerged from one of them. I am on board a BA plane on the way to New York, and have just been molested by what can only be described as the airport Gestapo.
People often say that it’s a bad idea to say the word “bomb” in an airport. It may well be. What you don’t know is that there are three more words to add to the list: “This”, “is”, and “ridiculous”. At this point I am unclear as to whether it is the individual words which were verboten, or whether it was their consecutive juxtaposition that was an apparent threat to national security, (I used them one after the other you see…) but at any rate given my experiences I can only advise that you steer well clear.
Allow me to provide a little context. At the point we begin my little story, I had ostensibly cleared security, replaced my moccasins, and mused upon but then opted against spending ridiculous amounts of money on such airport essentials as slightly-nicer-headphones and underwater video cameras. Having reached the gate I was walking down the tunnelly thing onto the plane.
“Regardless of the obvious and unforgivable antisemitism, I was as cooperative as could be”
I was on the cusp of a stress free ingress to this not-quite-jumbo jet, when I was whisked aside for a random bag search. Being Jewish, I naturally made the tenuous assumption that I had been profiled. Still, regardless of the obvious and unforgivable antisemitism, I was as cooperative as could be, even offering my assistance in opening my needlessly compartmentalised backpack. Indeed, I was just warming up to my interrogator when I was struck with a demand that shook me to my core.
Being a careful reader, you will of course remember that I had the pleasure of displaying my endlessly unattractive and mismatched collection of socks at an earlier juncture in the airport experience. However, in the naive hope that someone other than close friends and family has read this far, I can assume your ignorance of the following:
Despite an outward facade of being a competent adult human being, I am freakishly underequipped at tying shoelaces. Not only am I unable do it properly (thanks, Dad), I do it at a pace that makes glacial drift look like Usain Bolt genetically spliced with the Starship Enterprise. As such, I am not a big fan of public shoelace tying incidents, least of all when they are repeated and seemingly pointless. My internal monologue screamed, “For the love of God, not again!”. My external monologue, though more reserved, was infinitely more damaging.
The words bubbled forth, involuntary, almost a whisper: “This is ridiculous…”
Things escalated quickly – before I knew it I was being stood up and frisked angrily, as the until now perfectly amicable airport constabularian pointed, having whipped it out of my pocket, at a thing that was plainly and clearly my wallet, while asking such penetrative questions as: “What is this?!!”
“She had apparently taken considerable offense at my largely inaudible critique of the double shoes-off procedure”
This was where the real trouble began. My unsolicited masseur was accompanied by his supervisor, a stout and abrasive woman who for our purposes we shall call Sharon (Shazza to friends), and who was presently waddling over.
Shazza is that most rare breed of activist, an avid supporter of the precise nature and design of airport security protocols, regardless of the actual detail of whatever they are. As such, she had apparently taken considerable offense at my largely inaudible critique of the double shoes-off procedure. Not only that, but my actions had apparently constituted a personal insult to the gentleman still quizzically pawing at the strange leather foldy thing from my pocket. She wanted an apology.
I’ll supplement this with the fact that Shaz didn’t really like me anyway. I was doing my best pretentious airport wanker impression, and as such had happened upon her in full leather jacket/ray bans regalia. I was also refusing to apologise.
In response to my overall objectionable nature, Shaz decided it would be best to confiscate my passport and boarding pass, and said that unless I apologised I would be removed from the flight. As this was happening, shoes off, luggage out, scene caused, the rest of the passengers were proceeding on to the plane. The less charitable among them guffawed at me as they passed.
I attempted to mount some sort of defence: “I’ve got a right to say…” But Shaz, having spotted my unfortunately American passport, interrupted – “Maybe in America you do.” In my mind I add “bitch!” to the end of of that.
I feebly attempted to point out that I am actually a dual citizen, but she seemed unswayed by my claims of transnational human rights. I was clearly at least partly contaminated, and at any rate a real Brit would surely have shown more respect for airport procedure. I needed to be put in my place, filthy, complaining, semi-American that I was.
I asked to see the manager – there was apparently no one more senior in the entirety of Heathrow. I asked for her name – “You don’t need my name.” It was, fortunately, on her nametag.
“No one can do anything about it, least of all express slight frustration with procedure to the Pol Pot of gate B44”
When I eventually got onto the plane, I attempted to complain. The incredibly helpful and sympathetic staff said that this firstly happened all the time, and secondly was nothing to do with them. This brings me, tortuously, to my point. Though I was flying BA, the security staff were from the BAA, no relation. Of course, BA staff have to be sympathetic and helpful. If they aren’t, you’ll go fly with someone else. But good luck trying to get anywhere without passing through the clutches of the BAA. They run every major airport. As a result, their security procedures can be as annoying as they like, and no one can do anything about it, least of all express slight frustration with procedure to the Pol Pot of gate B44. That is, unless you feel like walking to New York.
It is this kind of monopoly situation that gives rise to a company in which employees, instead of responding to complaints, put down and threaten customers for making them. Can you imagine going to a restaurant, sending back a dish, and being imprisoned by the waiter until you apologised?
Add to the lack of competition the fact that BAA security officials are in a position of power, often have to perform repetitive work, and that people are very
keen not to be booted off of their flight, and you have a recipe for a legion of petty tyrants who can harass anyone that they don’t like the look of.
Thus, my conclusion: The BAA should be dismantled, so that I can make remarks under my breath while being forced to take off my shoes for the nth time, and then proceed onto my flight unhindered by Sharon and her shadowy cabal of Heathrow Hitlers.
Point made, but I hear you cry, “How did you get on to the plane?!”
I would love to say that I about faced and sprinted into the plane, Shazza hanging on to my ankle as I boarded barefoot, finally free of those damn shoes and their embarassing foibles, but no. Of course, being spineless, I gave up and apologised, and walked on with my tail between my legs, resolving to write a pithy article about it on the flight.