Social Leverage

Social Leverage

Flying high

By Carla Lever

Being in Bournemouth – as I am – ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And, if you were reading last time, you’ll know I didn’t set the expectation bar very high. So I booked one of those concerningly cheap Ryanair flights and, by the time you’ll be reading this, I’ll be in Hungary – a country I picked almost entirely because of the name and the fact that I was slightly inebriated at the time.

I’m regretting my spontaneity now, the day before I fly, upon realising that I will have to leave at 4am to get to a terrifyingly small -and correspondingly inaccessible – airport in good time for my flight. It’s left me thinking about another time I flew out of a small UK airport. It didn’t go well – and that was at a far more decent hour of the day.
Let’s face it, besides the obvious functionality, airports really are the equivalent of the twilight zone. There are very few places I’d let complete strangers herd me like cattle and strip me of my valuables and rifle through my bags, taking what they think I should no longer possess. Ok, so the greater Cape Town area is another example. But, you know, *still.*

I have always held the belief that the lowest forms of humanity often take the calling to become customs officials. The old adage about what happens when you give a little person a little power remains uncannily accurate. Strangely enough, this phenomenon is particularly bad in small airports. So no surprises that Bournemouth International – the smallest UK airport I have ever seen – took the proverbial cake.

First, let it be said that I was the only passenger under 60. No doubt I looked a prime target mule for the massive, high tech Bournemouth drug smuggling rings. Second, while there are only about two flights a day from Bournemouth, the staff are on constant duty. I take their point that the security procedure is a bit of a highlight. Third, my last two passport stamps at the time were from Cape Town, New Dehli and Sao Paulo.
You know what’s coming.

A woman who looked alarmingly like she had Viking ancestry bore down on me. “Step aside please, madam. Is this your bag? You have been *randomly selected *[lies] to take part in our new [eyes glint in excitement] * improved* security procedure.” Resigned, I let her put her latex covered mitts on my bag.

What came next, though, was something I had no previous experience with. Every item had to be removed and laid along a lengthy counter, to the feverish excitement of half a dozen airport officials and a small planeful of Bournemouth OAP’s, each of whom was righteously firm in their conviction that they would see pounds of heroin revealed under their very eyes. Each item then had to be wiped over (I kid you not) with a small piece of cloth, attached to what resembled a long armed plastic loo brush. After everything had been wiped, the cloth was placed in a sealed scanner and tested, presumably for drug residue.

Now, this is all very well if you know exactly what is in your hand luggage and can prepare you facial expression accordingly. But in the past week, I had just done a frantic hop across several German cities. The finer points of what might or might not be lurking in my hand luggage was a mystery to both Helga the ageing security scanner and myself. So when she produced, in slow, repeated motion, a string of underwear from a side pocket of my backpack, I was actually quite impressed. I had, truth be told, been searching for that little stash since Berlin and had the awful thought that I might accidentally have left the larger complement of my knickers in the house of some very kind German boys who let me stay the weekend (with no expectation of loss of underwear).

“Ah!” I gamely – and honestly – cried. “I’ve been looking for those for ages!” Helga was horrified. But she had to continue. The stash, it seemed, was never-ending.
Like some unwilling lingerie magician, she pulled pair after pair of knickers and laid them (6 pairs, assorted shades) on the counter. Only after they had been lined up, wiped and the results scanned, was I allowed to reclaim them. The OAP’s were rocked to the core. Clearly, this was infinitely better than heroin.

Ah memories. Frankly I’m hoping I don’t suffer a repeat performance tomorrow. One thing’s for sure, it’ll make a good story for next time.

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