Traveling With a Clear Plastic Bag – London, England

Traveling With a Clear Plastic Bag

London, England

By now, everyone has seen or heard about the thwarted terrorist plot in England last week. Twenty-four potential terrorists were arrested in London for an alleged plot that involved taking liquid explosives onto airplanes headed to the U.S. I was one of the lucky tourists in London with a flight headed out the day after the arrests.

On the Thursday before my flight and the day of the arrests, BBC made it clear that extreme security measures were being taken for anyone flying and many flights were even cancelled.

But I have to be at work on Saturday!

Images on the news showed passengers dumping contact solution and deodorant into trashcans, airline employees passing out the new stylish extremely popular carry-on item, a clear plastic bag. With dread, I looked around my hotel room.

I was planning on just carrying all my souvenirs on board. There is no way everything is going to fit into the one bag that I brought.

I had to buy a new bag. Well, it was 10:30 at night, but at least I was in one of the world’s biggest cities. Stores would still be open.

The souvenir shops in Piccadilly Circus were indeed open, so I searched the bags with Union Jack flags and London written out in sequins trying to find one that would hold my stuff, survive an airplane’s cargo hold, and not look too embarrassing. I found a red and black bag that would work, and it used the last of my English pounds. I headed back to my bed and breakfast to pack everything as carefully as I could.

Arising at 4:00 a.m. on the day of my flight, I turned on BBC again to see what the updates were. It had just come out that one of the terrorist suspects was only 17, but there wasn’t much else about flights and security measures. I headed to the tube station with my two book bags and crossed my fingers.

Friday, August 11th: All Ryanair and Easyjet flights have been cancelled. Please call this number for more information.”

Great. It’s cancelled. I don’t want to go an hour outside of London to find out that I have to stay one more night. Maybe I’ll just stay here in town and call for more information. No, I better at least go there and find out what they say.

Sixty minutes later, I was climbing the stairs into London Stansted airport. A crowd greeted me and I couldn’t tell where lines started and where they ended. I took a deep breath and looked up at the flight information screens. I scanned quickly overlooking the words “Cancelled” and “Delayed” struggling to find my 08:10 flight. I found it and shifted my eyes to the last column – check in at desk 35.

My flight isn’t cancelled!

One hurdle down, I was ready to face the next: checking my bags and figuring out what I could take on board. The long lines moved fairly quickly and I watched other passengers. Some were sighing from relief, as I did that their flight wasn’t cancelled. Some were on cell phones trying to reach families and workplaces telling them they’d be late due to a flight cancellation. One frustrated lady was yelling at an airline employee concerned about her delayed flight. Several security guards walked around observing.

The more I watched, the more I learned about how to prepare for check-in. I removed my wallet, passport, and book from my purse and shoved the purse into my book bag with everything else. An employee passing by handed me my very own clear plastic bag. I put my wallet, passport, book and Diet Coke in the clear bag.

I took a deep breath. It was my turn to check in. I handed the desk agent my passport and flight information. He looked at my clear plastic bag and said that I had to pack the book, too.

Ugh, that’s what I was afraid of.

He warned me that I probably wouldn’t be able to take my Coke in either, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I grabbed my boarding pass, maneuvered my way through the long lines and headed towards the security checkpoint.

Except for the luggage store, all of the stores outside the checkpoint were empty. No one could carry on anything, why bother shopping. It looked like there were several people who hadn’t thought ahead or hadn’t heard about what was going on. They were purchasing new bags to hold everything they had expected to carry on.

Well, at least there won’t be those passengers who try to carry on mini-suitcases. Those guys always bug me.

It was somewhat humorous to walk around and see everyone carrying a simple clear plastic bag and nothing else. I immediately noticed how much lighter my shoulders felt and that dull pain that always seems to exist when I’m traveling was gone.

My back certainly appreciates this new carry-on.

I approached the security checkpoint, but before I could even enter, a security guard was checking the plastic bags. The gentleman in front of me had a set of keys.

“Nope, I’m sorry, can’t take those on.”

“But they’re my keys, they’re not electronic.”

“Isn’t that one of those fobs where you just hit a button and the car unlocks?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s an electronic. Please take that over to Lost Luggage. You can pick them up when you return.”

Oh, I feel sorry for him. Thankfully I have a cheap old used car that doesn’t have one of those fancy things.

“Ma’am, no newspaper, no Coke.”

Slightly credulous, but a good little traveler, I pulled out the newspaper and bottle and dropped them in the nearby trashcan. Taking my place in another line, a few snippets of overheard conversation revealed that many were discussing what was going on: some were lamenting, some were concerned, and some were scared.

Security was checking everything and everyone. As we moved closer, we began to remove our belts, our shoes, and jackets. I could see a young girl around eight being frisked while her mother watched. She clearly didn’t really understand, but was doing what she was told and what everyone else was doing. Luckily, the airlines had 24 hours of practice before I came through, so things moved quickly.

I made it through the metal detectors, the frisking, and the many different security guards that lined the entry to the waiting area. People roamed around carrying their clear plastic bags, continually looking up at the computer screens ensuring their flight was still on while others sat, seemingly staring into space waiting for news about their delayed or cancelled flight.

Surprisingly, I realized that some people were shopping and buying things – in the bookstore!

They’re buying books and no one is telling them that they can’t.

I looked around; waiting for someone to stop them and tell them they were breaching security or reminding them that they couldn’t take their purchases on the plane, but all I saw was a sign that stated:

“Purchases made after the security checkpoint are allowed on planes within the European Union. Passengers traveling on flights to the United States may not bring purchases onto the aircraft.”

I reread to be sure that I was reading correctly.

Hey, at least this time I am traveling back to Germany, so that means I can actually buy a book and have something to entertain myself for the next three hours before my flight leaves.

Other stores were crowded as well. People were buying bottled drinks, handheld games for their children, and even some cheap CD players and CD’s.

I made my purchase and headed to my gate. I opened my book, but sat for a moment.

Why is this book better or safer than the book that I had stuffed into my bag under the cargo hold? How much money will these stores past the security checkpoint make today compared to other days? What about the stores in front of the security checkpoint? What kind of search of the checked-in luggage was going on? What if the airline lost my bags? How are those families going to make the ten-hour flight to the U.S. without anything for their children?

What has this world come to?

I am not in the military, but I work for the U.S. military in Germany. I have to show a military photo ID to enter my place of my work, to enter my home, and to go to the grocery store. My car is searched, on average, once a month. There is a long process for a non-military friend to come to my apartment. I have sat at my place of work for more than two hours waiting for an unidentified bag near the front gate waiting to be “cleared”. I’m used to security and I appreciate everyone’s devotion to protection and safety.

But, is frisking eight-year-olds and banning newspapers bought outside the security checkpoint going too far?

Forcing mothers to drink baby formula and not allowing families to bring diapers on planes seems to be too much. Shouldn’t we be proactively learning more about the offenders, the terrorists, to begin with and not reacting every time a new threat comes along? Shouldn’t we be trying to understand why these people feel the need to blow up airplanes and kill innocent people instead of forcing all passengers to check all bags?

Although it was an interesting experience and I will think again the next time I go overboard while packing my carry-on, I don’t see how traveling with a clear plastic bag is going to solve the war on terror. There has to be more we can do.

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