Airport’s intrusive luggage searches need to stop

COULD someone explain why Guernsey Airport feels the need to examine hand luggage in a manner that would put the most hardline authoritarian police states to shame? Recently, not for the first time, my briefcase was rejected by the scanner operator for no obvious reason. I then waited for 10 minutes while three others who had suffered a similar fate had their bags examined, by which I mean totally emptied item by item, with each item carefully examined as though it was uniquely suspicious. My business cards were removed from their box and flicked through individually. My comb was peered at as though it was a copy of The Satanic Verses and Guernsey was Iran. My passport had every page carefully turned.

My experience was irritating and time-consuming. The poor woman who suffered the same fate while I was waiting for my turn had a much more disturbing time. Whereas my business cards, comb and passport were the most incriminating articles I could provide, her Tampax, spare underwear and jewellery were treated to similarly intense scrutiny and laid out in her tray for every passing passenger to gawp at.

I have regularly travelled to places where security really does need to be taken very seriously indeed and others where dictatorships and religious fanaticism have influenced airport security, but none where such intrusive searches are carried out so routinely and so publicly. This shameful practice needs to stop out of a simple sense of proportion and common decency. If that isn’t a good enough reason, then do so before it happens to a journalist and our hard-hit tourist industry suffers a further blow or those business travellers still mindful to travel opt for more benign regimes in which to do business.

JONATHAN WIX

Guernsey Ports head of passenger operations and aviation security Steve Langlois responds:

I thank your correspondent for bringing this incident to our attention. Before I address their comments, may I first offer an apology. We are required to carry out manual searches of some cabin bags, which by their nature are both rigorous and intrusive. However passengers should be able to expect these searches to always be conducted discreetly and with appropriate sensitivity. Clearly this was not the case in the circumstances that your correspondent has described and I would therefore apologise to the passenger involved.

The searches conducted at Guernsey Airport are a mandatory requirement under the aviation security standards that we have to meet as part of our operating licence. While we do occasionally get asked whether this is all entirely necessary for a community like Guernsey, they are part and parcel of modern day air travel.

I cannot discuss details of the actual security procedures we have in place, but what I can say is the requirements for manual searches depend to an extent on the type of scanning equipment being used. In the case of Guernsey Airport, we are currently investing around £1.5m. on improvements to the security area, which is due to be completed in July. That includes an upgrade to the scanning equipment, which should mean less intrusive manual searches, and therefore a smoother journey through security for passengers.

I would like to assure the travelling public that we do take such reports seriously. We have shared this with our security service provider, and reiterated that while bag searches are necessary, they should always be carried out with the appropriate sensitivity and privacy.

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