Dear airport security man: You give good patdown.

That time when I confused the ever-loving bejesus out of an airport security crew member when I complimented them on their pat-down.

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Er, Haje… How do you know the difference between a good and a bad pat-down?

I was a police officer in London for a few years — only on a voluntary, part-time basis, but for a while I was doing all the late shifts with a response team: the guys who flick on the blues and twos, rushing to your side when you dial the emergency number. Wrote a book about it too, if you’re extra curious.

As part of that job, I was put in a lot of situations that taught me an incredible amount about customer service: I found myself in positions where any sensible person would turn around and run away, but you get to dive in, and try to negotiate a (hopefully peaceful) solution, with people who are in the highest state of distress they’ve been in in their lives. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was incredibly educational and interesting.

As part of this job, I made a series of arrests, including of known gang members — and I made an arrest for attempted murder at one point as well. The point I’m making is that when you’re on the street after having made an arrest, you do a search. And when you do a search, you search them like you mean it, because you’re going to be spending the next few hours with them, as you book them into custody. If it turns out they have a knife, your life is at stake if you fail to find it. And so, you search properly.

A proper search does involve some pressure — just gently stroking someone’s arm and calling it a day doesn’t cut it — but think about it: If you were to want to conceal a folding knife, where would you put it? I’d probably shove it into my underpants: Well hidden, but easily accessible. And with that knowledge, where would you search?

If you’re not giving yourself a genuine chance at finding contraband, then why are you even touching me in the first place?

Airport searches are theatre

I don’t like being touched by strangers — I doubt many people do — but I understand that, in the name of keeping planes in the sky, there’s something to be said for proper security.

So, when I am taken aside for a ‘random’ pat-down, I understand why it’s done. However, if the ‘search’ involves the searcher just gently running a hand down the outside of my arms and legs, then touching my chest and back… That’s not helpful. I always keep a mental note of all the bits they’ve missed, and I reckon there’s a very good chance that, most of the time, you could get a weapon through security if you taped it to your upper inner thigh, underneath your arm pits, or down the front of your underpants.

My problem with not doing a proper search is this: If you’re not going to search properly, you’re just fondling me for no good reason.

Or: If you’re not giving yourself a genuine chance at finding contraband, then why are you even touching me in the first place? The only answer is ‘theatre’ — to make people (me and others) feel safer when we travel through airports. The only problem is this: I know what a good search ought to feel like. This ain’t it, and as a result, I feel less safe, and slightly violated: If you want to play theatre, that’s all fine by me, but don’t involve me in it.

Finally, a good search

So, imagine my surprise when I went through Gatwick a few weeks ago.

I was taken aside ‘randomly’ again (quelle surprise) even though the metal alarm didn’t give a peep, and the chap who searched me actually did a proper job: He paid special attention to the tops of my socks (great place for contraband), the hem of my trousers (ditto), and everywhere else — including a good, firm check in the testicular area. Uncomfortable? Absolutely. A good search? Definitely. The first I’ve had at an airport, in fact.

“That was a good search”, I said to him, when he was done. “Thank you.”

He looked at me, and his supervisor, who must have overheard me, stepped forward.

“What do you mean?”, the supervisor said. “Why do you say that?”

He seemed a bit defensive — and I suppose that most people who say ‘good search’ probably are trying to be sarcastic — so I explained the above to him: That I used to be a beat cop, that I know the difference between a good and a bad search, and that this was the first time I had been searched properly at an airport. I also mentioned that I appreciated that, because otherwise there was no good reason to touch me at all.

“So, er, you don’t want to make a complaint?” he said, seemingly confused.

“Nope, I’m happy. Job well done.” I said. “This chap deserves a raise”.

And on that note, I did the only sensible thing: I went for a pint, to wait for my airplane to arrive.

Written by

CEO of Konf, pitch coach for startups, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.

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