Freedom’s compromise

It looks like I managed to return to Amsterdam late this morning through a narrow window of opportunity, so to speak, given the disruption to air travel that’s now biting hard following the terrorist plot in the UK that’s been foiled by police there.

I’ve been in New York for some business during the past three days (posted a few photos on my moblog), returning on the overnight KLM flight from JFK to Amsterdam. It was a direct flight, not via the UK, but the chaos at UK airports with the suspension of all flights to/from Heathrow and Gatwick today is already having a knock-on effect elsewhere in Europe.

There are some eye-opening changes for travellers as a result of this latest twist in the war on terror that I’m sure will have a long-term effect on everyone’s travel habits, and will be highly disruptive on business.

Right now in the UK, you’re not allowed to take anything on board a plane with you except for essential items like travel documents and your wallet or purse. No laptops, no phones, not even a book. Nothing in your pockets. What you do take should be carried in a clear plastic bag. And every passenger will be hand searched. For flights to the US, there’s an additional and thorough security check at the gate.

The Department for Transport has published a full list of the new requirements and procedures.

Even if these severe restrictions last only days or possibly weeks, I can see many elements of this becoming standard procedure and adopted in other countries in the interests of everyone’s security and safety.

If it helps stop the bad guys, who’s to complain?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Dan Hill

    The argument against air travel seems to be picking up every month. Whilst these robust security procedures are in the interests of public safety the airline businesses have really got to pay attention to what they can do to counter it.

    Espen Andersen provides an interesting thought.

  2. Dennis Howlett

    My imediate thought is that it gives RyanAir yet another opportunity to charge for in-flight ‘service’…you’d like your book to read and your iPod? That’ll be €2 sir. duh!

  3. Rob Safuto

    The U.S. travel guidelines are a bit less restricted at this time. They are still allowing cell phones and portable media players. But no liquids or creams of any kind. You can’t even take a cup of coffee or bottled water that you buy inside the security zone onto the plane.

    I’ve got a domestic flight on Monday morning and I’m planning to scrub my toiletry kit of all liquids and creams, which I will then purchase in travel sizes at my destination if necessary. The ban of liquids purchased inside security zones also puts more onus on the airline employees at the gate to get involved in security checks.

    It will be interesting to see what effects these new restrictions have on the boarding process and the usually very limited overhead space on crowded flights.

  4. Martyn Davies

    I’m about to fly out of the US back to London. So far it looks like I don’t have to check-in my precious smartphone, camera, MP3 player and laptop as hold baggage. But let’s see….

  5. neville

    Rob, I think the current restrictions will be a permanent feature of air travel from now on. If not all of them, at least a major tightening of security and limitations on what you can take on board an aircraft.

    It’s interesting seeing how other countries have reacted to these events, imposing similar restrictions on flights to the UK and the US. No liquids, gels, etc, as you’d expect. In fact, very similar to the list published by the UK Department for Transport.

    So, Martyn, how were things on your return from the US?

    Personally, I think it will be a great improvement in air travel when you can’t have laptops, briefcases with papers, etc, on board. Even better with no phones. Peace and quiet for the journey!

    But a big effect on business. I wouldn’t check my laptop as hold baggage. Have you seen how baggage handlers treat suitcases, etc? Plus the low temperatures in the hold of an aircraft at 35,000 feet.

    So this could be a catalyst for rapid change in how you work when you travel. If you can’t take your computer or phone with you, what do you do? No working on the plane, which is probably the least of anyone’s concerns – it’s what do you do when you reach your destination.

    Cue the entry of more enterprising businesses who will offer laptop rentals, phone rentals, etc, geared precisely to addressing these new needs. For phones, you could take your SIM card with you (in your hold baggage, of course) and plug it into your rental phone. For computer needs, you’d have everything you need online somewhere so when you get your rental laptop (or access to a computer at your remote workplace), you just log on to access your stuff.

    Anything’s possible, really.

  6. Martyn Davies

    Actually the restrictions on the US side were not nearly so stringent. We left late, but that was lagely because the inbound plane was delayed arriving. No bottled drinks were allowed airside. A couple of cops wanted to see what I had been taking photogaphs of (sunsets). Don’t quite understand the logic here, what does it matter what’s in my camera if the plane blows up and we end up in the sea? Extra security folks were there to search all carry-on bags before we got on (one was visibly shaking as he searched bags), but no hand baggage had to be checked into the hold.

    I hope the restrictions aren’t permanent: I rarely use my laptop on planes, since in coach it’s impossible to open the darn thing once the guy in front has tipped his chair back. But I’d be reluctant to check it in the hold, since I once saw a laptop that travelled as hold baggage. It didn’t survive.

    Other gadgets I do use though: my smartphone has my travel itinerary and world times, so it helps he figure out how to make connections. My MP3 player was invaluable this trip as I spent over 20 hours in the air, and was gratetful for the time I could pass with podcasts like FIR, Joe Jaffe and Dan York. I also love to carry my digital camera with me (even taking pictures in airports, much to the apparent confusion of cops), and I would be reluctant to leave this to the mercy of the baggage handlers.

    I have to travel to the Far East in about three weeks time, but without my gadgets, or even books and magazines to make the journey bearable, I’m really expecting it to be an excessively boring flight. I’ll have to find some meditation technique to prepare myself for being detained for 11 hours without appropropriate stimuli.

  7. Martyn Davies

    Restrictions are to be relaxed somewhat tomorrow, so that laptops and electrical items can be taken on board again (see British Airports Authority website for details). I read that 30% of the flights had to be cancelled today due to inability of security folks to do all the checks necessary and get people to planes, which of course caused much pain (i.e. $) for the airlines.

  8. neville

    I saw that news too, Martyn. The BAA site doesn’t say much, though – details of the revised security arrangements are at the Dept of Transport site.

    Talking with a friend in the US this afternoon, he’s at La Guardia airport in New York and reported little disruption. Mind you, he’s on an internal flight not international.

  9. David Camacho

    Hi Neville,

    I am intrigued by the last line of your post: “If it helps stop the bad guys, who’s to complain?”
    Today, a former British ambassador named Craig Murray raised some hardheaded questions about the timing of the terror ‘bust’, as well as its immediate impact on airport security tactics (such as racial profiling). It’s the kind of critical insight that one hopes to hear from people with experience in government. Well worth a read.

  10. neville

    I’ve seen similar articles elsewhere, David, with that point of view, ie, it’s a propaganda stunt, etc. I don’t believe that for a minute.

    But there are indeed big social issues regarding passenger profiling which do look as though it would center on things like race, demographics and gender. The public debate is just starting.

    Now that some of the tight security re hand baggage has been relaxed a bit, the travel experience should be a bit better. Unless you’re travelling through Heathrow, that is. Ongoing nightmare from seeing the TV pictures.

  11. Back in NYC at

    […] As this was my first trip back to the US since the terror alert a couple of weeks ago, I was half expecting big delays and exhaustive security at Schiphol airport this morning. None of that at all, just the usual bag scans, etc. Unlike in the UK – Heathrow continues to be an absolute nightmare to travel from. […]

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