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Thursday, 3 November 2005

Shoe-Fly: Part II

By Richard Carreño
Like many frequent travelers to overseas spots, security concerns -- and security hassles -- remain uppermost in my mind. For the most part, despite inconveniences, I reckon that's a good thing. It wasn't too long ago when secruity was so lax at Philadelphia International Airport that it was the only international gateway in the northeast -- at least that I knew of -- that never bothered to create a post check-in cordon sanitaire, restricting gate access to passengers only.

Getting out of the country is one thing. With the exception of occasionally getting gripped up by some over-zealous TSA agent and the voluntary (yeah, right!) shoe-less shuffle through metal detectors (done away for many passengers in Atlanta, by the way, thanks to especially-designed metal screeners for shoes), departing from Philadelphia is largely trouble-free.

Yes, sometimes, it can get weird. Once, on a departure from Newark to London, Treasury agents queried me (and checked my carry-on) -- on the jetway, no less -- as to whether I was carrying more than $10,000 in cash, the permitted amount. Hardly. Like any 'worldly' traveler, it's always credit cards. Were the agents thinking that I might be a terrorist courier? All this, of course, was exception, based on a false tip. I was inconvienced. But not bent out of shape. Like many other travelers I've heard and read about, I even welcome many security checks.

What concerns me that getting into destinations overseas is so easy. I never fail to be amazed how hassle-free it is, as an American, at least, to bop across borders. Shoe-less at Philadelphia. Shoo-in at London. I suppose the thinking goes that if you've passed muster for 'good to go' on departure, you're status as a security risk, on the other end, has been marginalised. That well be true. At least, as a bomb-thrower. But how about illegal immigration, anyone? Non-metallic contraband?

Most of my travel is to Europe, mostly to Britain. Over the years, I reckon I've entered the UK via Heathrow and Gatwick more than 100 times, and not once -- let me repeat that -- not once have I been asked by custom officals to open a briefcase, much less a suitcase.

Moreover, I've also learned, when travelling to Britain and other European countries, there are ways, as well, to minimalise, if not exactly circumventing, the bother of long immigration queues, made all the worse because of the early-morning arrivals of most flights to Europe.

The easy -- though expensive -- way is to travel business class. Most of time, you'll be awarded with a paper pass that allows you jet through the VIP-express lane. For the times when you're not travelling on an upgrade (the most frequent case, if you're like me), I've discovered that it's best to mind these tips:

Yes, it's best to deplane amongst the first passengers. (I recommend this reluctantly because we've all encountered domestic flight louts who fight their way out the second they hear the squeak of tyres on tarmac). Still, on international flights, an early out can make a keen dfifference in how long you wait in the immigration hall. The reason is that you'll be amongst the first to be able to head for the queue that's farthest from the point where you've entered the hall. Most passengers will instinctively line up in the first queue. (This first line, in addition, is usually also the busiest since it frequently abutts desks and trays with immigration forms, and, thus, attracting procrastinators who failed to fill out these forms onboard).

Other hints? Get in lines with families. The line only seems longer than others. Families will be processed as one unit, and thus really account as 'one' passenger. Also avoid lines that are heavily populated by Asians and Middle Eastern-appearing persons. I'm also reluctant to mention this because it's a recommendation that involves obvious profiling. We don't believe in profiling. European immigration officials do. Lines with passengers that agents are likely to profile, generally move slowly -- very slowly.