Airport security. Don’t you just love it? As someone who is old enough to remember when boarding a plane was little more stressful than joining the 8.21 am commuter train to London Waterloo, I do hate modern security — necessary as I suppose it is — with a vengeance.
At every airport, we cheerfully surrender all our valuables and human rights in return for helplessness, ready to be bossed around and faced with new and fiendish instruments of torture. It’s probably similar to going to prison for a quarter of an hour.
Most times, all turns out well in the end. We pick up our bag and baggage and go off for a quick coffee before the flight is called.
But have you ever watched your bag full of goodies disappearing into the X-ray machine, only for it to disappear forever? I have considered the possibility occasionally, but never imagined it could happen. Only this week, it did.
I was heading to the Greek island of Mykonos via Athens when, as usual, I consigned all my valuables to the care of London Heathrow Airport security staff. I’d followed instructions to put everything in the bag and stood there shoeless, beltless and full of empty pockets.
Delayed at body check by an unusually long queue for the scanner, it was a good ten minutes before I emerged to seek my possessions. I was not surprised to find the trays containing shoes, belt and computers sitting forlornly and unclaimed at the very end of the conveyor belt.
Leica Q2 gone, Ricoh GR gone
But there was no tray containing my on-board bag. A bead of sweat erupted on my brow, and I suddenly remembered what was in that bag. The Leica Q3, Ricoh GR, iPhone and Apple Watch could alone account for a loss of over £7,000. Then, there was a few hundred in cash. And this doesn’t take into account the “inconvenience items” such as credit cards, medication and all the essential bits and pieces I hadn’t wanted to consign to the hold luggage.
Quite the disaster. Another bead of sweat emerged as I approached a member of airport security staff. He turned out to be very helpful and considerate in everything but finding my bag.
I was led to a chair, clutching my computers and passport/boarding pass. I was completely undone. Apart from still being able to travel, I had no means of paying for anything and would have to spend a day replacing all the essentials. Some couldn’t even be replaced on an island such as Mykonos.
Airport Security: Mistaken pickup
I was even thinking what a pity it was that all my Apple “Find My” items were in that bag. The phone, the watch and no fewer than three Air Tags (attached to house keys, camera and bag). If ever a bag was tagged, this was it. At least I could see where my stuff had gone if I had any means of checking the app.
The security staff returned, having searched the entire area, and announced that it was more than likely that another passenger had “picked up my bag mistakenly”. I was told I would have to wait 30 minutes while they inspected the CCTV footage of the incident. Then, armed with further instructions, they would contact the police. In my imagination, I saw my precious valuables already flying off in the direction of Timbuktu as the footage was under inspection.
Since I was gently panicking by this time (wouldn’t you?), I had completely overlooked that the iPad in my hand was capable of accessing the “Find My” app.
We powered up “Find My” as two security officials looked on. Comfortingly, I soon saw all my valuables in one place and not moving, but the geography of an airport is not mapped as accurately as the streets outside. We could be certain only that the bag was in the middle of the terminal and probably not far from the security area.
Encouragingly, my fourth AirTag, inside my check-in luggage, could be seen meandering at a constipated rate through the bowels of Heathrow, no doubt on its way to my flight. At least it proved the system was working.
So where was my bag? One thing for sure: it wasn’t going anywhere. Just as I had given up hope, with the only alternatives of travelling without cash or cards or returning home (which was beginning to be the most attractive option by this stage), a second security official hove into view with a tray containing a black bag. Is this your bag?
It was. It was gaping open at the zip, but a quick check showed the valuables, including my little Leica Q3, all present and correct. Relief washed over me. The beads of sweat returned to their home pores after such a vicious false alarm.
Fortunately, I had lots of time before the flight. This little incident would have been so much worse had I been rushing.
When the worst happens
So what had happened? I got no satisfactory answer and was left with an inference the bag had been stuck in the machine.
But a more likely possibility is that it was removed for manual inspection (after all, a Q3 is a pretty suspicious bit of kit) and never returned to the conveyor. Despite one thorough search of the area, it hadn’t been found. It was over 30 minutes later that it turned up.
This has taught me a valuable lesson. While airport security takes as much care as possible to ensure passenger safety, they display cavalier attitudes to our personal possessions.
We must surrender (almost) all our worldly goods to a conveyor belt with absolutely no security at the opposite end. Anyone could pick up any bag and make off with it. There is no control (other than CCTV), and I am surprised that theft by this method is not more widespread.
If airports really cared about the safety of possessions, someone would have come up with a ticket or tag system to prevent bags from being collected by strangers. Here’s an idea if anyone wants to run with it.
One thing is clear. I will never again surrender all my valuables without worrying about losing them.
Has “Find Me” ever saved your bacon (or valuables)? In the very earliest days of Apple’s location system twelve years ago, I was able to recover a bag containing an iPad and a computer after it had been stolen in the southern Athens suburb of Glyfada. With help from the police, we tracked it to the flea market of Monastiraki in the centre of the city, where it was being offered for sale in suspicious circumstances. Kyrios Plod dashed out from the local station and caught them in the nick of time.
The bag and electronic contents came back to Glyfada in a police car, accompanied by two miscreants in handcuffs. All very satisfying in the end. Read more about this incident below. I was left with an abiding respect for the Greek police and their slightly more pragmatic view of summary justice. In London, the police would have shown no interest, and my bag would have been lost forever, “Find My” things or not.
After two major location-tagging incidents in eleven years, I am beginning to think I must be something of a Pechvogel¹, as the Germans would say.
¹ Pechvogel — walking disaster area
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