Perhaps you know the feeling: a journey that seems to be going unbelievably well? You can be pretty sure that things will soon go awry. This is how it turned out for me at the start of my journey to Tel Aviv on Saturday.
The old London St Pancras International was celebrate to celebrate the coronation. The platforms and lounges are crowded but the staff make sure everyone gets to where they need to go. In my case it was Luton airport. I landed a bargain under £10 from London terminus to central Bedfordshire, using the brand new Luton Airport Express (LAEx) and the newly opened Dart shuttle. LAEx is really a dull commuter train to Corby in Northamptonshire. But the first stop is the Luton Airport Parkway, which is only 22 minutes on a clear day. Which Saturday.
The Parkway station (which happens to be the last place anyone looking for a real park should look) has been much improved. Train passengers no longer have to negotiate in a maze of escalators to show up next to a dreary old bus for a stuttering journey to the airport.
A single escalator leads to a new £300m Dart lounge – a driverless shuttle takes just four minutes. Put yourself in the right carriage (five or six from the fence at St Pancras) and you can sprint to catch a shuttle that just departed. With the smile of the travel gods, I completed the journey from start to finish in 27 minutes.
Wizz Air’s ground staff also smiled. For some reason, I was unable to check-in online for my Wizz Air flight to Israel, but in a few minutes I received my precious boarding pass.
What could go wrong? Not security, for sure. I regularly research and write about aviation security, and furthermore have had some prior experience in passenger discovery at Gatwick (a job, not a hobby).
On those days, passengers arriving in Tel Aviv – and also Belfast – were taken to a secure area for a thorough manual search of everything in their hand luggage. While airline security out of Israel remains extremely tight, low-cost airline passengers flying into the country from the UK go through the same process as everyone else.
I like to think that I can happily negotiate airport security on autopilot: swinging a water bottle (to refill the plane); laptop and liquid out in a separate tray; Watches, phones, keys and belts were removed. Then it’s just a matter of going through the metal dome and hopefully not making random “pings”.
I hope in vain. “Take off your shoes and go to that line.” My blue canvas sneakers with rubber soles were considered suspicious, so they crept in for an X-ray while I waited in line for the full scanner experience “raises hands, two Spread your legs, face forward, and hold for three seconds.”
When I showed up, so did my shoes – along with the other passengers’ shoes. In a variation of picking up someone else’s suitcase when collecting it, I put it on, lace up my shoes, and walk comfortably in someone else’s shoes.
After the real owner, wearing only socks, followed my footsteps, he was very considerate about the mix and quickly strode happily.
For me, the problems were just beginning. I stuffed my jacket in my pocket before sending it to the X-ray machine. But while the bag was still there, along with my cagoule, the jacket was gone. In the jacket pocket; my passport and boarding pass.
I have informed the person on duty (about hand luggage being “pulled” for secondary search). He quickly found the garment but the precious documents were lost. He went on and took them from underneath the rollers.
Immensely relieved, I finally turned my attention to the things that were doing their own thing. I began to quickly rearrange my posture while traveling. However, one important part was missing: my watch. While it seems unlikely – given the good nature of most people and the dense presence of CCTV – the lost watch appears to have been taken by an opportunistic passenger.
Once again, the security staff reacted impressively. A similar watch was quickly found, but after a footwear embarrassment I certainly wouldn’t help myself with anyone else’s fortune. So where is mine?
“Sometimes,” one security officer said diplomatically, “we find that the lost items are actually somewhere in the bag.”
She passed my jacket and cagoule through the scanner – and determined the watch was in the hood of the cagoule. I was sent on my way with a smile. Within 20 minutes, I temporarily got a new pair of shoes; lost jacket, passport, boarding pass, watch; and reunited with them one by one.
What have I learned? Keep your wits and your bit about you. Don’t overfill a tray. Keep your passport and boarding pass in hand – don’t send them through the scanner. And double-check your assets before reporting anything else as lost.