Improving Air Travel – II

I had to pass through Athens Airport last week. I really can’t tell you anything about the place, other than that it now tops my list of least favourite airports. I took no pictures to share with you, there wasn’t time.

You could say it was at least partly my fault. When I booked my flight, I thought I would have more than two hours to change planes in Athens. I forgot there was a time change – I’ve gotten used to Europe being small and think of everyone as being in the same time zone.

Still, it is a small airport and a little more than an hour to change planes should have been plenty. Little did I know….

My flight from Munich left late. Not by a great amount, fifteen minutes or so. Which meant that as I got off the plane in Athens I had half an hour before boarding for my next flight, an hour before takeoff. I was prepared to sprint.

Never having been in the airport before I was paying close attention to the signs. I could echo Shakespeare and say: “it was Greek to me,” but there was an English translation. Plus, all I had to do was follow the arrows to get to the departure gate. Simple enough.

Except it wasn’t. I followed the arrows and wound up at a “no entry” door. I would blame the disorientation of having been up hours before dawn, except I wasn’t the only person in that position. Others had followed the same arrows.

So, I reversed myself, and found the direction I was supposed to have gone in. A security guard checked my boarding pass before I was allowed to use an escalator. Seemed a little strange to me given that I was transferring from one plane to another and hadn’t exited into the terminal, but I was in a hurry, I showed the pass and kept going.

The scene at the top of the escalator was not one of joy. After having gone through a passport check and full security screening in Basel, there was another passport check. One line for people from the EU, with no-one in it. One line for the rest of the world with at least a couple of hundred people ahead of me. As I stood in line I received email notification that my flight was now boarding.

Why this bureaucracy? I’d already been checked at the outset of my journey. Certainly, my identity hadn’t changed in a couple of hours in a plane! I was wondering if I would make it to my flight.

I wasn’t the only one with those wonders. As the line inched forward slowly, airport employees would approach and loudly ask: “Is there anyone here for Air Canada to Toronto” or “Any passengers flying to London?” Having slowed us down, they then had to fast-track people stuck in the queue.

Once through passport control, I had to go through a full security check. The slowest line of course. Watch and belt off, empty pockets, go through scanner. Show the security people who had gone through my carry-on that the computer really did function.

I made the flight, with just a few minutes to spare. I wasn’t the last to board, but almost.

Why though should passengers have to go through a second security screening when they are in transit? It is required in Frankfurt airport also. Do certain places not trust the competence of other airport screeners? Are there reasons for that?

Air travel used to be much less hassle, and even, dare I say it, enjoyable. I don’t think anyone would seriously object to security precautions – when people started hijacking planes back in the 1970s, increased security became inevitable.

But isn’t one time per trip enough? I’d be curious as to whether anything of interest ever turns up at second screenings, things missed at the first airport. I’d be willing to bet though that airports will never reveal that data. The last thing they want harried air travelers to know is that they are being put through an unnecessary hassle whose sole purpose is to create employment. At least, that’s the way it looked in Athens.

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