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Saturday, 3 February 2007


Dublin Airport, right

Border Crossing

By Richard Carreño

Before 9/11, Philadelphia International Airport was almost as porous as the US-Mexican border is now. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry (or Jane) could march up, through, and over the concourses, including Terminal A, then exclusively used as an international building.

Conversely, I've always been impressed with security at London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Dublin, the three destination airports I most often use when traveling abroad.

In fact, these airports have always been and remain, in reality, two airports in one. Front-of-the-house (check-in). Back-of-the-house (departure). Following the European model (now, post-9/11, adopted by most American airports, as well), ticket-holders move from check-in areas to a kind of 'cordon sanitaire,' a departure waiting area 'malled' with and duty-free and other fancy shops.

Secure? Surely, yes. At least, for departing.

But how tight is security on arrival? I always believed that, too, was tightly monitored and regulated. Especially for non-European Union flights and long-haul flights.The British and Irish, after all, aren't as squeamish about ethnic profiling as we Americans.

True, Americans (the suit and necktie variety, in particular) have very little to fret about as they move through the immigration queue. As long as you stay out of lines with persons who you might trigger extended questioning (always a problematic guessing game, at best), it's pretty much a safe bet that an entry for an American from Philly is swift and hassle free. 'What's the purpose of your trip?' 'How long will you be staying?' Bang! Your passport gets stamped.

What I never expected that a 'free' Mexican-style entry would ever be part of the equation, however. Incredibly, this is exactly what happened last summer when I traveled through Dublin.

On that particular trip, I was traveling business class, and, as a result, I was among the first to alight. I had just one bag, and nothing to collect at baggage pick-up. Thus, I just followed along -- OK, quite sheep-like -- after my fellow-travelers. We turned there. We turned here. Before I knew it, I was in the airport's check-in area. Oops! Major oops! No immigration. No baggage check.

Some of my companions just nonchalantly moved on -- into Ireland! I thought better of that. I retraced my steps, and managed to find the proper clearance officials. I thought it best that I stay mum about my previous adventure.

I don't suppose this mix-up happens often. (At least, I hope it doesn't).

A few days later, I moved on to Britain. My flight took me to Gatwick. Because I was arriving from Ireland, there was no need, according to standard protocol, for any passport control. I suppose the Brits think their security is covered by the Irish.

Yeah, sure!