Dreading last week’s chaos at London airports, we managed to delay our flight back to the Caribbean until, we hoped, the queues and confusion had died down. We obediently packed up cellphones, mp3 players, laptop, digital camera and camcorder into suitcases padded with a year’s supply of clothes for a family of four. Most difficult was to put away the childish things essential for a ten-hour flight: colouring books, miniature board games, pencils and crayons, reading books, sweets, snacks and travel sickness pills.
We couldn’t give in completely, however, and packed a “No-No bag”, containing two colouring books, a few crayons, gluten-free snacks for my son, lip balm and nose spray. We chugged our drinks just before we went through security at Schiphol, and then sat and watched everyone else pass through behind us … sipping frappuccini while being frisked, flipping open their laptops for a quick game of freecell … one guy even had a big VCR in his bag. Security waved them all through.
As I remember it, the BBC said that the new security restrictions would apply to all passengers in and out of London airports; they did not say, “Good evening. As a result of the suspected terrorist plot to blow up three transatlantic flights, Ria Bacon and family, and they alone, will not be allowed any of the minor wherewithal that make long-haul flights almost bearable.”
I still don’t get it.
Leaving London was far harder than getting in. Joining the short queue at security, we were mollified by the sight of other hapless travellers reduced to carrying the barest necessities of ID in a transparent plastic bag. Our security agent for the morning (let’s call him Costa) stared as I plopped our bulging bag onto the inspection table. He opened it wide, frowned and sucked his teeth slowly. “Oh dear,” he sighed. “Oh dear oh dear oh dear.”
He rooted around in our bag, then started pulling out things one by one.
“Can’t take this. Can’t take this. Can’t … oh my word, definitely not this … or this … or this,” these last items being the gluten-free biscuits and crackers.
We protested that they were medically necessary, but he brushed us off by demanding prescriptions. We insisted he check with his manager. While we waited for a telephone check, our man leaned forward, pursing his lips and shaking his head. I felt like making some snide remark about overacting in a 70s sitcom, but Mr B cut in sympathetically.
“I bet you must have had a hard time these last few days.”
A switch flipped.
“Oh my goodness yes! It. has. been. hor-REND-ous!” He said with a cheerful smile, full of the chummy hyperbolic blitz spirit that still prevails in England.
“Now if we just had a prescription,” he said, turning the biscuit box around, “like this one here!” pointing to the sticker of ingredients, in Dutch, on the box. Mr B and I clamped our jaws shut. “Yes, this is what I’m looking for. And these are all the same aren’t they?” holding up the other snacks then shoving them back into the bag as we nodded.
The word from up high announced that gluten-free biscuits were OK if someone tasted them (my son happily obliged).
Costa started burbling, “Well vat’s alright innit? I mean sam of ve fings people bin bringin’ frew you carn ‘ardly believe it. Honestly.” He picked up the last two objects: the lip balm and the nose spray. Costa paused, “Carn be ‘avin’ that though, can we?” He looked up and distractedly threw the lip balm into the reject tray behind him … and the nose spray back into our bag.
I didn’t even look at Mr B until we rounded the corner.
The rest of the trip back was uneventful, or it was once the three plainclothes policemen had managed to muffle the screams of the deportee at the back of the plane. The sleeping grey-haired rasta next to me (wearing an Uppsala Reggae Festival T-shirt), opened one eye and muttered, “Cyan get no peace nowhere.”