Monday, August 28, 2006

Security Theater at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)

Rating: 11100
Sept 3 UPDATE: The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that: "A MAN WEARING a jacket and carrying a bag was able to sneak a bomb onto a flight from Manila to Davao City last month at the height of the nationwide security alert after Britain uncovered a plot to blow up transatlantic planes.

The man pulled off the same stunt on the return flight to Manila."
(He was hired by the goverment to audit the security of the airport.)
Bruce Schneier has the perfect term for it: security theater or ways of making people feel safer without actually improving anything and as wikipedia puts it succintly: is related to and has some similarities with superstition. This was the pervading thought in my head as I dutifully plodded through NAIA's security.

Then again, security theater is at least supposed to make me feel secure yet I barely felt safer even though I went through four layers of security on my Jetstar flight from Manila to Singapore.

First layer
As my car pulled into the perimeter of the airport, we encountered a long queue because each vehicle entering (whether arrival or departure) had to stop, pop open the trunk and open up the glove compartment after which two security guards would have a cursory glance and wave you through. (Because in the Philippines, everybody knows that the only place to store explosives would be in the glove compartment. Duh.)

photo courtesy of Layer
I entered the crowded OFW lounge and I was greeted by a simple walk-through metal detector and a pair of security screeners busily chattering about Kris Aquino. I did not bother to remove my solid metal watch, metal belt buckle, coins and handphone in my pocket. I went through, and surprisingly the metal detector was silent! Anyway I stood with my arms out so I could be wanded. They gave me a perplexed look and waved me through. Pucha kung sa Landmark nga dinudutdot ang bag ko nung kanilang mahiwagang stick, bakit hindi ginagawa dito sa paliparan?!

I found myself in the airport building in the midst of a bustling crowd of Philippines' modern day heroes holding my check-in luggage which hadn't passed through any x-ray machines. I was hoping that the alisbayan boxes littered about me contained chocnut, cornicks and the usual Pinoy fare instead of anything bomba because frankly at this point all I had was hope.

photo courtesy of Layer
From the OFW lounge, I moved on to the next layer of security before the check-in counters. These had the big x-ray machines, the multi-colored, multi-beep, walk-through detectors and the courteous security screeners. So far this has been the most significant and stringent security checks and to NAIA's credit, the passengers were moving swiftly through it. Although the lines were long, it was moving fast and I was through in less than 10 minutes.

Fourth Layer
After clearing immigration, I was surprised to see that there was a layer of security before we entered the duty free shops. This is where the rules about bringing liquids and gels were being enforced. Bottled water, softdrinks and juices in tetra-paks were being discarded. Hair gels, cosmetics and bottles of perfume that couldn't be thrown away were labelled, packed into envelopes and supposedly you would get these when you reached your final destination.


Being a spartan traveller (and unlike the Korean ladies who went after me who had all sorts of creams and lotions), I went through without any hassle. I proceeded to my gate... and lo and behold! There was no security!

Ayos. Looks like the x-ray machines that were before each gate were moved to the checkpoint after immigration and there was no further security from the duty free shops and cafes to the airplane door! So I bought a sandwich, some soup, a bottle of water and a can of sprite. I could have brought these on the plane if I wanted to since nobody was checking anyway.

I'm not a security expert but wouldn't you think that it's better to place your security at the boarding gate instead of right after immigration? How hard would it be to 'borrow' a kitchen knife (maybe even some lighter fluid) from the many coffee shops and restaurants and bring it on board the plane?

In fairness, my personal experience with NAIA's security wasn't bad at all. It's certainly far from the horror stories happening at airports abroad. The process was relatively quick and it took me less then an hour to get from airport to boarding gate also aided by the fact that the queues at immigration were strangely very short.

I'm not saying that we don't need security. What i'm trying to say is that we don't need the charade.


B said...

have you seen United 93? scary shit.

agent a said...

hmmm... my titanium belly ring always makes a sound in the walk-thru metal detector. therefore it is required for the female security to pat me down and use the handheld metal detector.

when it passes my belly button it makes an "extra lound sound" different from the sound it makes when it scans buttons or my gold jewelry... after that they give me clean bill of health and let me pass without checking what made that "extra loud sound".