Brit Airport Security

August 12, 2006

The new Brit carry-on regulations are OK as a temporary band-aid, but will be disastrous if maintained.

Passengers can now only carry on these items when flying out of the UK:

Cash, credit cards, passport, tickets carried in clear plastic bags or folders
Prescription medicines and medical items such as asthma pumps or diabetic kits
Spectacles and sunglasses
Contact lens holders
Women’s sanitary items, such as tampons, pads or towels, although these must be unboxed
Handkerchief and unboxed tissues
Keys, but not electric key fobs
Bottles of water bought air-side at airport (although not for US flights)
Duty-free alcohol and perfume (not US flights)
Travelers with babies will also be allowed to take on board nappies, wipes, cream, nappy disposal bags, baby food and milk

Mrs G took one look at this and told me to cancel our September shopping trip to London – now we’re going to Rome. She says womens’ handbags/purses are an essential piece of their life support, and their removal is not negotiable.

Plus travelers out of the UK can’t get insurance cover for the stuff they have to check:

British air passengers were told last night that they will be travelling without insurance cover for valuable items such as jewelery, laptops, mobile phones and MP3 players that must now be packed in the aircraft hold.

After the emergency ban on cabin luggage as part of tough new air security controls, most insurance companies said that they would treat passengers sympathetically. But within 24 hours of the terror alert The Times has learnt that companies have decided to harden their position.

Under international rules an airline is liable to pay up to a maximum £850 in compensation for loss of luggage, a sum agreed as part of the Montreal Convention signed by the European Union two years ago.

The airlines are diving for cover too:

A British Airways spokeswoman said last night: “We are bound by the Montreal Convention but we have no plans to reimburse for loss of valuables that are held in the hold…”

Brits flying to low trust destinations would be nuts to check valuables. Plus the UK has its own baggage theft problems – Heathrow airport used to be known as Thief-row. So while these regulations remain, females and business people will avoid flying out of the UK.

This sledgehammer-style airport security isn’t necessary – here’s how El Al did it when I flew them London to Tel Aviv return in March.

1. Instead of crowds of low-grade screeners, they have a few specialists screening each passenger approaching check-in.

2. If anyone matches their criteria, they question them for a few minutes – this happened to me both ways. I won’t blow their cover by describing how, but they’re polite, succinct and very professional.

3. If they pass you, you give all your bags – carry-on and checked – to a guy who puts them through a big checked bag CT screener. They do this in front of you so you can keep an eye on your carry on. CT scanners cost more than X-Rays machines, but are much more effective at detecting explosives.

4. Then you check in as normal.

5. Finally, there are said to be guys and/or gals with guns on the plane, although I didn’t see any.

This is process is highly effective since in spite of repeated attempts, El Al has never been hit. And no El Al passenger has to check their laptop, and no woman is separated from her handbag/purse (trying to do that to an Israeli women would anyway be fatal).

The Brits had better move to a similar system fast before London’s status as a global air hub passes to Schipol and Paris, and Mrs G switches permanently to Rome.


Laptop Decision!

August 12, 2006

One small positive effect of the Brit terror alert has been to narrow my choice of laptop to one. The bad news is it’s a ThinkPad from Chinese-owned Lenovo.

The alternatives – HP and Fujitsu Siemens – both lack now-essential security features, and only sell by mail order so expect you to buy blind. By contrast Lenovo has retail partners across Europe where you can try before you buy.

This Lenovo T60 has a 15″ screen with 1400*1050 resolution, Radeon X1300 graphics, 80 GB drive, excellent keyboard with built-in light, trackpoint, and weighs 5.8 pounds with power adaptor. Plus it has fingerprint reader and hard drive password protection.

It’s not wide screen, but that’s fine since screen height is more important than width for my spreadsheets, WP and browsing.

With 2GB memory it’ll be expensive, but less than the equivalent Apple MBP.

There is one problem. All the Chinese companies I’ve known are indirectly owned by the Red Army & I expect Lenovo is no different. So I’ll have to put the ThinkPad through an industrial-strength spyware audit – all suggestions welcome.