About airport security

August 3, 2016

Gatwick. London. May 2016. Airport security.

What do you do when you’re in an airport security line? I’m curious.

This was the line at Gatwick for passport control and airport security getting into London. We were spending only one night in London, but had to go through the process. The huge line snaked around control barriers and took about an hour for us to work our way through. There was a day when passengers would be pretty testy about such a wait, and in fact, there are a lot of complaints overall about increased security taking so much time, or so I’m reading. But frankly, I haven’t heard those complaints nor am I one of the complainers. I’d rather be as safe as possible.

Now,I get that “safety” is a relative term, because we’ve all encountered some idiotic TSA agents and we’ve wondered how the hell they got in charge of keeping us safe.

So there we were, in line in the crowd. I watched a woman in a headscarf set her suitcase down and continue in the line that snaked around the barriers. She was about 25 people behind us and parallel to us in the queue. I knew what she was doing: her bag was heavy and she didn’t want to pick it up and put it down 50 times a minute as the line moved around.  But still, the rule is “no unattended bags,” not in the U.S., not in London and not in most places. So I kept my eye on her as we moved slowly toward the passport control booth. I wondered if anyone in charge would notice. I wondered if anyone would say anything.

I saw the London equivalent of a TSA person on the edge of the line. I thought about calling her attention to the bag and the only reason I didn’t was that I was 99 percent certain that it was just a case of a heavy bag. But of course, I didn’t know.

After about 15 minutes, the border worker saw the bag and called out to ask who owned it. The woman raised her hand and they had a conversation. She took her bag and continued in line. With her bag.

airport-securityA few things about that episode:

I should have said something. If you see something, say something. I HAVE said something before, but not this time. Next time, I will. Because you never know.

It disturbed me that no one else in line seemed to notice. Of course, I don’t know if someone called the worker’s attention to the bag or not. But I seemed to be the only one with eyes riveted to that bag.

Since the worker was so close to the bag, I wondered why she hadn’t noticed it sooner. I wondered why she wasn’t constantly scanning the dense crowd.

On the day I’m writing this, it’s only been a few days since people were hacked to death in Bangladesh. It’s a horrific thought. Just like Bataclan is a horrific thought. And all the things that have happened since those events.

This is the world today. We live in it, we travel in it.

We’ve got a three-week trip to France planned for spring and it’s pretty likely we’ll go. Any airport is a risk, any city is a risk, any restaurant is a risk.

There are so many reasons that my heart hurts all the time now and this is one of them.

So, back to my question: What do you do in an airport security line?


37 comments on “About airport security
  1. Carla says:

    I’m guilty of paying little attention and airport security lines these days for sure.
    I love people. I love people watching 🙂 I pay lots of attention both before and after. But in the line since I don’t have clear or TSA pre-check I end up focused on getting my stuff together, getting my toiletries out, taking off my shoes, all that…

  2. Oh my gosh… The security and lines are the worst things about airports! And I’m heading to the airport for an international trip next week, so that’s something I’m definitely not looking forward to!

  3. Leanne says:

    I hate all the security and waiting and queuing, but it’s a sad fact of life now. I also saw a woman (in a head scarf) leave a suitcase near our shops and it paralyzed me as to what to do. All I could think about was moving out of detonation range and also berating myself for making judgments. It’s a sick sad world we live in nowadays.

  4. I have said something on a number of occasions. Once, I was in the Atlanta airport getting coffee and there was an unattended laptop…with a police officer just seats away! I pointed it out to him and then he paid attention.

  5. pia says:

    Please go to France. Things happen anywher.

    Two young girls were leaving an unattended bag at an airport I was in. I asked them to please take it. They said no that they needed their hands free. I said fine but I will tell airport security. They found that funny and left. I did find airport security who took the bag though we all knew the girls were probably no threat. (I had explained the situation.) The girls had to learn this was serious, you never know who is going to come and put something in the bag and I’m sure there are a dozen more reasons.

    I and every New Yorker I know would report bags we saw on the street.Tourists think that crazy but….

    The best security I was ever in, though I didn’t appreciate at the time, was El Al when I was 21. It was a full body search–nude.

    When you live through one terrorist attack you want nobody else to ever go through that experience.

  6. I make up stories for myself about the people in front and behind me in the line…very entertaining but also very effective to bring any suspicious behaviour to my attention. Naturally I am with Pia, please do come to France, we need tourists more than ever.

  7. Beth Havey says:

    Carol, I understand your hesitation, but you were keeping your eyes on the bag and the woman. You did not ignore the situation. Good for you. We do have to be vigilant. On the other side of the coin, when we were waiting in a huge line at Heathrow to have our passports checked, we noted how a young black man was interviewed for ten minutes at the station.Something had to be wrong with his ID and we got through and never saw how that was resolved, but again–these things are troubling. Who do you suspect and who do you not. When my mother was 93 they patted her down at the Des Moines airport. I was furious. Things seem a little more in control now, but that could change on a dime. Beth

  8. The security lines are horrible! That is the only thing I hate when I travel.

  9. Rosemond says:

    I’m that person who does say something when they see something. At LAX I saw an unattended bag and notified security. It was actually a security officer who had her bag tucked behind a stand but at least I did say something and have it checked out. This is our world.

  10. sue says:

    Hi Carol, unfortunately, security and travel are now linked so tightly. I was very surprised when we visited the US about 2 years ago. On arrival the security was tight but with each flight it became less for us. They monitor your travel so that by the time we were coming home they were allowing my husband and I to skip the security queue would you believe! It is a shame the world has become the place it is now but we can’t let that stop us from living our lives and enjoying ourselves when we can. Travel broadens our minds and teaches us so many life skills. I just live with the idea that ‘my time is up when it is up’ so whatever I do I can’t avoid that so I might as well enjoy it.

  11. I was waiting for a flight to board and noticed a man who looked Pakistani or Indian working on a computer that had DEATH and corpses written all over it. He was on a strange dark looking website. It made me nervous and I wanted to report it, but it was time to get in line and I didn’t. I was nervous for the entire flight. Luckily, nothing happened. I’m sure he was just into weird video games or something. It’s hard to know sometimes when to say something without coming off as prejudice.

  12. I try not to panic when encountering other nationalities/cultures regardless of which ones. I have two nephews who are Pakistani. Handsome as hell and THE best/nicest/most accomplished, kind and caring young men ever. Yet I know some people look at them with fear, contempt, even hate. I try not to be that way.

    And when in line, I people watch… and try not to be too judgmental. Or scared.

  13. I’m a natural people watcher but I’ve always become cynical and a bit scared. I won’t let that stop me from traveling. At the airport I just watch and watch. Once on the way back from Italy it took us 26 hours because of delays. Talk about being testy!

  14. I have PTSD that is managed well but I still have trouble in crowds especially in lines that don’t move quickly. When in a security line I try to focus on people watching and try to initiate conversations with others in the line. I definitely speak up if I see anything that seems suspicious.
    I got pulled out of a line in Philadelphia and had to go into a room to take my clothes off. They wouldn’t tell me why until it was over. It was terrifying. I kept wondering if I had taken my eyes off my bag, I knew I never put it down but I was doubting myself.They said when I went through the ex-ray machine it picked up bullets in my pockets.Turns out my sweater had gold thread embroidered pine cones around the pockets that resembled bullets. I was traveling alone and was so humiliated and angry. I want everyone to be safe so I sucked it up but they really weren’t trained very well. Honestly I don’t trust most of them to keep us safe.

  15. Silly Mummy says:

    I’m a naturally anxious person & I will worry about everything so I probably would have worried. Though I think the sensible part of me would have been saying that someone who puts down a bag but stays in the queue themselves is probably not suspicious.

  16. Amy Jones says:

    I know how you feel. It is so terrifying feeling unsafe even in a crowded place like this…I can’t believe the world has come to this situation

  17. I am sure that was a scary situation. Yeah, definitely say something next time because you never know. This is just another reason why I don’t like to fly. I hate long lines.

  18. Kendra says:

    The lines are ridiculous now! We just flew back into the country and it took us two hours just to get through customs. I hope it gets better soon!

  19. Shanna Uptergrove says:

    Whoo.. how scary was that!? Oh my goodness.. I don’t travel, but I do have my fears for my sister and her kids- they live in the UAE and they travel A LOT, but they love it. They try not to let fear overcome them because they are creating experiences from their adventures. I will be sharing this post with them so that they are aware and know they need to speak up if something seems off.

  20. We now have Global Entry so we don’t have to wait on those lines anymore. I highly recommend it if you travel a lot.

  21. Elizabeth O. says:

    I don’t really mind the long lines especially if it’s for my family’s safety when we’re traveling. I always observe people when I have to wait long. I will probably notice things like this too.

  22. Linda Hobden says:

    Just been through the security lines at Gatwick. In the early hours of the morning it is not too horrendous but still busy.

  23. I haven’t seen anyone put a bag down, but now that I’ve read this I will be watching more closely. I don’t fly international much and do hesitate to make plans to do so. I don’t want fear to hold me back, but I have to admit it is a factor.

  24. I know it’s unusual, but I haven’t traveled by plane since before 9/11. Things then were WAY different and airports were secured, but we didn’t have such a harsh glare or need for security.I think you are so right about “saying something”. All to often we convince ourselves that it’s fine or not our business. Simply alerting someone in authority to something suspect is totally the right thing to do…especially with the way the world is today.

  25. Liz Mays says:

    I didn’t realize it until now but I definitely people watch. I also watch people at the gate who get up and leave their bags in the chair. Usually it’s just to go the trashcan, but I’m watching…

  26. I am basically in the same pair of shoes as you, watching and observing ’til I get my turn. I’ve seen and met different people within the zigzag lines and when it comes to deciding if I should open my voice or not, you’re right. I would’ve but didn’t.

  27. Lisa Hodges says:


  28. Rosey says:

    We saw a bag unattended at a crowded place we visited recently. I didn’t report it. But I noticed it and I should have!

  29. Usually, when I’m in the airport security line, I’m hoping they hurry so I don’t miss my flight. The rest of the time I’m people watching 🙂

  30. Glenda Kruse says:

    The whole thing worries me… I just simply try my hardest not to fly because I’m so paranoid the wrong person is going to slip by airport security.

  31. Christina Aliperti says:

    I admit I don’t pay enough attention. I kind of zone out and think of other things to help pass the time on line.

  32. When I’m in the airport line, airport and on the plane, I stay alert to my surroundings. I have had a few feelings before, but they seemed to turn out to be nothing. Very sad that we have to feel this way when traveling.

  33. Krystle Cook says:

    I have to admit that I don’t pay as much attention as I should to the security lines. Glad that you did though and would be up to saying something the next time!

  34. Sarah Bailey says:

    Security can be crazy! I think that I have become even more attentive since so many attacks have happened.

  35. tauyanm says:

    things like things kept on staying me on foot and not travel for sometime now, I have a daughter 8yrs old. so I am trying to be safe as I can be. when i am at the airport, I love looking ans watching at people. I am sure will say something if I feel something is not right. Safe travels!

  36. Kathy Kenny Ngo says:

    I travel a lot and it is important that the airport is secured no matter what. No one likes to fly with a problem.

  37. Leigh Anne Borders says:

    Well, I hate to say this but I have no idea. I have NEVER been on an airsplane. I have a fear of them that has kept me away rom them.

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