I am sure airport pat downs are getting more invasive each time I fly. That said, there is nothing quite like being manhandled by a complete stranger in a wholly legal manner. Hell, everyone enjoys it in very select circumstances. I don’t blame the continued threat of terrorists posing as sweet old ladies or the ever-increasing presence of drug mules disguised as excited children on their way to Disneyland. Instead, airport staff are probably just stressed and need an outlet that takes the form of physical aggression. Perhaps they are merely just randy. Stressed and randy. Still, I have learned to love the airport security hurdle.
The First prize for the most invasive airport pat-down goes to Bulgaria. The airport consists of three sky cafes and two shops selling mostly Russian vodka and Greek Ouzo, so with an absence of perfumes to spray or make up to smear onto the faces of the jet-lagged, staff are committed to ensuring that all passengers leave Bulgaria with an airport experience to remember. After removing everything from my shoes to my hairpins at security, Mrs Security Officer invited me for a little One to One. She started off slow with a hand rub – just in case I had a small bomb sewn into the palms of my hands. She got a bit more firm when she discovered a bangle on my wrist; possibly a dead give away of more sinister motives. After about 16 jabs of my armpits, she was utterly convinced that I was just pretending to be ticklish and that my true intention was to fly back to Heathrow to plot a world takeover or smuggle in illicit narcotics.
Taking matters into her own hands, I was pulled aside for more rigorous checks. By the time she got to my lower legs, I had Madonna’s “like a virgin” stuck in my head. Having thoroughly explored my entire anatomy without finding a single wire, pair of scissors, a bag of cocaine or sachet of turpentine she was not yet satisfied that I was merely a tourist who had found a smashing flight and hotel package deal with British Airways. I was made to turn around for the pat down part 2 of the world’s most extreme weapons search ever performed. I thought she was going to make me strip, bend over and cough. Luckily, she seemed to find what she was looking for when she discovered my tasteful Christmas socks. They had baubles on the sides which I accept may have looked suspicious in the middle of February. After giving my ankles a good squeeze to ensure I wasn’t packing cyanide in my socks, she despondently sent me on my merry way to collect my shoes and the rest of my wardrobe. Most people have to pay good money to be groped by Eastern European women in police uniforms, so I’m not complaining.
Amsterdam was a little rougher. The Dutch aren’t afraid to pinch, and I’m sure if it came down to it, they wouldn’t hesitate to bite. With their budding coffee shop industry (pun unintended), they’re keen to ensure their tourists’ dark pleasures of weed cafes and red light district frolics stay in the country, so people have something to come back for – as if the tulips and the windmills aren’t enough. They take a no-nonsense approach to the airport pat-down. I’m not sure it was a pat, more of an aggressive sports massage with a few karate chops and elbow hits were thrown in. I must have looked vulnerable or in need of a good seeing to because I scored Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull as my security pat-down officer who was desperate to leave me with at least a bruised rib if she couldn’t get away with puncturing my lung. For a moment, I was tempted to make a facetious comment along the lines of “Careful, don’t get too touchy, warts may have been frozen off, but the virus is still contagious” but thankfully common sense prevailed, and I hurried away before she could give me a Chinese burn.
Last but not least, Morocco slides into the top three with their perverse and surly airport staff. When completing my land card, my pen ran out. Unfortunately for me, I had a brief moment of restored faith in the comradery of humanity and made a wild presumption that the security officer would lend me his pen so I could complete the last line of my address. How naive I was. He curtly told me that he was using the pen – even though he wasn’t – and sent me to the back of the line to scavenge the use of ink off an angry Spanish family.
Can we blame social media for making us addicted to online attention and virtual love, leaving us lonely and in need of a human touch? Have airport staff recognised this problem and taken matters into their own hands? Or are they just confused about the term ‘suspicious’? Maybe they are the lonely ones seizing every opportunity for physical contact. The rest of us will have to continue to vent our daily stresses and frustrations through the excessive consumption of coffee and right swipes on Tinder.