Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun with flying...

Just this last week I was off traveling for work again, this time I was somewhere in the outskirts of Shanghai, so had we been smart enough to get ourselves some local airline mileage cards when we first got here I'd have racked up even more miles towards a free flight. But that's a different kind of stupidity, and not what I was planning on writing about today.

Basically I wanted to talk about how, at first slowly and now at a maddeningly quick pace, the airlines here are learning from the worst traits of the American airlines and are starting to add all sorts of new restrictions to what can and can not be brought along on a flight.

Back a few years ago, when the US first when liquid mad and banned carrying any fluids onto flights I was over here and in the airports the had special security lines set up for American bound flights, and then they would do a full carry-on search again right before you boarded the plane. I lost a few pens this way, the ink being a liquid in the Chinese inspectors minds, but this craziness was only something that those flying to the states had to deal with.

When we first arrived here, the security was nice and easy, something akin to the US way back in those freewheeling late nineties. It was nice, but after a few months they followed suit with banning liquids from outside and requiring all your shampoo, bug spray, and whatever to fit into one of those little ziplock baggies. No lighters or matches on the planes, standard stuff, but with the neat added benefit that all lighters would be taken from the check-in down to just outside of baggage claim so that the smokers could just pick up a new lighter when they landed.

Recently though, security has been stepped up to levels that we never expected. Apparently it has something to do with some sporting event that will be going on here in China in, I think just under 14 days. When we left Xiamen for Ningbo last week nothing was different, and when Tina returned to Xiamen from Ningbo a few days before me it was about the same. Actually she did get stopped for carrying her bug spray as a carry-on, but she used her basic Mandarin skills, and smile, to get the guard to just wave her on.

I however did not have such luck. I flew back out of Shanghai, so that I could spend a full day in Ningbo, and saw a whole different world of inspection. When I checked my bag in it was stopped at the scanner and I had to go in the back to open my luggage and go through it with security.

"Do you have lighters in here?" was his question. Of course we did, as we had picked up some lighters at a bar in Ningbo. I had five of them in my luggage, thought they'd be fun to give to some of our friends.
"Sorry, no lighters allowed on the flights."
Ok, no problem, that's why they are in my checked luggage....
"No, no lighters at all. Not even in checked luggage."
"Sorry, new rules.", and then in a slightly hushed tone "Olympics."

So, out came all out lighters that we made sure to not send home with Tina since she wasn't checking luggage. They were from a bar that we had stopped at, the bar was just full of women and one other western guy. I think these women are there just to talk to you, maybe go home with you or something, but who knows? All we know is the lighter had their name and address on it and a note about the girls. We asked the bartender if we could take the lighter and she gave us five of them. In my frustration about having to let the guard take them, I at least pulled the wrapper off the lighter so that I could share that....
Even better, after pulling the label off I found that it was one of the novelty sexy lighters with a photo of a topless girl on it. Awww, and I had to leave that behind....

So, after all that fun I manage to get over to the security where they have now started making people take their computers out of their bags. My bag trips a flag and they pull all the computer cables out and run it through again, then they find that I've got a little pocket screwdriver set in my bag. Unacceptable, so I have to go back out and have them get my luggage so that I can check it. This is a small little fold up screwdriver kit, maybe 2"x3", and it has been in my bag for every flight we taken since we got here, who ever would have expected this to be an issue?

Back out front I'm told it's too late to get my luggage so that I've got to pay to have it boxed up so that I can check the box in. This is where I did what I do best - play dumb. That worked and the agent ran off and came back with a 6"x9"x4" box, dropped the screwdriver in it, taped it all together and gave me a luggage receipt. Then back through the security line to have my computer bag completely pulled apart again before I was finally allowed to pass.

This week, I left my screwdriver at home, and had no problems breezing through security in Xiamen. Coming back from Shanghai I found that they added even another layer of security at the airport. Now, everyone is stopped outside the airport, in the heat, and they let small groups of 10-15 in at a time. Each group has all of their luggage wanded down with that little explosives testing swab, and nobody gets into the airport until the machine gives a good signal. Kind of a genius way to do it, I thought, and other then creating huge crowds around the doorways outside of the airport it actually moves through fairly quickly.

We will have to see what they add next, we will be back at the airport again next week. At least, so far, we haven't had to remove our shoes.....

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