Tales from the Road - The Changing Nature of Travel

When people ask me what I do I normally answer Im an International Trade Consultant which usually shuts them up! While most people just accept it as what I do, some like to delve a little deeper. The trouble is that after more than 30 years of international business travel it is getting harder to provide a concise summary.

Travel has changed a great deal in that time. I can remember when travelling was a pleasure, when you could arrive for a long haul flight less than two hours ahead of its departure time, and when security was less intrusive than it now has to be. On my last few trips (to Mongolia, Ukraine, and Moldova) I have noticed also a variable element to the security measures: for shoes to be scanned or not, for belts to be taken off or not; for passports and boarding cards to be placed in the scan tray, or not; and for water bottles to be allowed through or sometimes not. It is reassuring that the security officers don’t always seem to check for the same thing, because it means their systems are flexible and responsive to change.

My first solo trip to the USA was in 1993, and after a long flight and the usual minimal sleep, I was looking forward to finding my hotel bed. I arrived at JFK and was one of the first off the plane, so I hoped I would locate my baggage, and quickly go through Passport Control and find a cab. Imagine my horror when I turned a corner to be confronted by a very long queue of Japanese tourists. Although it took about 90 minutes from that point to get to the passport desk, looking back that was actually quite quick.

Two years later it was even quicker as my colleague and I arrived quite late for a flight from Chicago O’Hare Airport. We boarded the flight just three minutes before the doors were closed, and it had taken just half an hour from dropping off the hire car to reach the gates. US internal security at that time was fairly relaxed, albeit ever-present.

When we arrived at Manchester Airport for a family holiday in 1996 to Canada, my wife was the only one of the four of us who was searched, but the process was quick and we were soon on our way. Either I didn’t look remotely suspicious or they thought she was a narcotics mule! We had a less pleasant experience in Frankfurt Airport as we travelled back from Prague in 2004. Again I went through security quickly while my wife and son were held back for shoe and belt removal as our connecting flight time rapidly approached. We made it,  but it was too stressful.

Frankfurt Airport is not my favourite place. Apart from being vast, the security staff there expect everything to run to their cultural efficiency clock, and have little time for those who take a more relaxed outlook on life. In 1999 I was dropped at Frankfurt with our Technical Director. He carried my company laptop and I carried the larger company projector. As we were ushered through security, I was taken into an ante room to have the projector checked over, only to hear a cry of panic in the distance. “How do I turn this thing off?” It was always a bit like that at Frankfurt and they clearly had wind of some kind of terrorist attack.

Everything changed after the Twin Towers in New York City were brought down by terrorists on 11th September 2001. The whole security regime changed, with airlines and governments demanding more stringent checks. Lockerbie had led to a tightening of supply chain security for the airlines, but nothing on this level. We were all advised that security checks would take longer, new rules were introduced about carrying liquids on board which now extend to asthma inhalers and other medication, and while passport checks took no more time than usual the paranoid in me detected a heightened degree of scrutiny by Border staff, almost wherever I travelled.

It feels more relaxed now on most flights, but the delays on check-in and for security have undoubtedly lengthened. It didn’t help much when I arrived in Newark New Jersey in 2015 from Manchester to a very long queue and a Border staff shift change, which meant that processing was at snails’ pace. And I still get the occasional surly official who either has a problem with my face, or the way I dress when travelling, or they are psychopathic. Like the lady at Kiev a couple of months ago who delayed me from going through security until she had swiped every part of me because something odd had apparently shown in the super-scanner in one of my pockets. It was a plectrum! She was unbelievably rude to the point where I gave up being polite to her, grinned, bore the situation and was eventually allowed to leave for my imminent flight.

Article written by John Reed - Associate of Strong and Herd LLP

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