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November 20, 2010

Differing Airport Security Standards

I understand the need for airport security. I really do.

And after the current controversy over the new pat-down policy (Don't touch my junk!), many will think this post is a minor complaint compared to all of that.

And they would be right.

But this is one that happened to me, so I'm going to complain about it anyway.

This is from my recent Calgary business trip.

First a good note. Canadian policies are definitely not as strict as the American TSA's are. We didn't have to remove our shoes (though it was "suggested" if it looked like they would set off the metal detectors). It looked like people *could* be sent through the full-body scanners or get a pat-down, but it wasn't standard procedure.

So that's good.

But what gets me is the differing enforcement of the screening policies at the two different airports (Vancouver and Calgary). How can travelers get through Security efficiently when they don't know how policies are going to be enforced?

Here's a link to Canada security's "Managing Your Bins" page, where it tells you what to do when you're going through screening. (I hadn't actually looked at this page before traveling, which I should have).

I'm going through Security in Vancouver, and they don't say anything about my liquid (I was bringing hair gel in an approved clear plastic bottle, because I needed my hair to look awesome for the presentations). I had packed it in the bottle and then in a clear plastic bag, as per instructions. Since I hadn't read this page, I hadn't read this:

"Place your transparent, closed and resealable plastic bag containing your liquids, aerosols and gels into a separate bin. If you are also travelling with exempted liquids, please remove them at this time and place them into the bin."
Since I hadn't read it, I hadn't removed it. But the security person didn't even ask. And I made it through Security with no problems.

Then I come to Calgary Security on our way home. Since I had no trouble in Vancouver, I didn't know to remove the liquid. The guy in Calgary asked me about it, though, and forced me to remove it and put it in the bin. I was mad at him, but now that I read the regulations closer, it looks like it was the Vancouver one that messed up.

As my bag was going through the scanner, something on my key ring made them take a second look, and then decide to search my bag. I can only imagine it was the angle that they were laying, or something, because Vancouver had no problem with them.

The guy asked me if it was ok to search (like I can say "no"?) and then proceeded to empty my bag, open up any zipped bags (I had a camera in a case, iPad in a case, and some electronics in a case), feel up my clothes (thankfully not pulling out my dirty laundry) and basically unpacking everything.

He then said "ok, you're free to go" and walked away, leaving me to put everything back and scurry out of there before I held up the line too much (he didn't take it to a separate area to search, like the TSA people did when they searched my bag in Moline).

Some of these security regulations are onerous enough. But how can we, as passengers, know where we stand when the rules are enforced in different ways at different airports?

Yes, I know this pales in comparison to the blatant invasion of privacy involved in the current TSA controversy.

But it's still irritating.


  1. I agree with Kim. I'd have to be crossing an ocean to fly anywhere. And seeing as how I can't exactly afford to cross an ocean, I don't exactly see me getting on a plane anytime soon. Granted by that time they'll be doing strip searches on everyone.


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