A Play in One Act
Me: A seasoned traveler with about 4 million air miles, approved by US Global Entry, a man the police would call an “upstanding citizen.”
Katrinka (KT): Security supervisor at British Airways Terminal 5.
The Inspector (IN): British police inspector called upon when possible bomb materials are detected.
Plain Clothes Counter-Terrorist Official #1 (PC #1): Called by an inspector when there may be a serious threat.
Plain Clothes Counter-Terrorism Official #2 (PC #2): Assists PC #1.
Dog Handler #1 (DH #1): Controls dog with special detection skills, not revealed.
Dog Handler #2 (DH #2): Controls second dog with different special detection skills, not revealed.
Cocker Spaniel #1 (CS #1): Works with DH #1 above. Black.
Cocker Spaniel #2 (CS #2): Works with DH #2. Brown and white.
I had finished my meeting at The Haymarket Hotel on Friday after a great week and went downstairs at 1 pm to meet my driver who was to arrive at 1:30. However, my driver also arrived at 1, so we left immediately for Heathrow Airport. The trip took exactly one hour.
I checked in with British Air first class, and was going to collect the VAT I was due for an item purchased while in London. However, the line was so long—over 100 people—that I calculated even if each person took only 30 seconds (which was highly improbable) I’d be on line for an hour. I wanted to buy some cigars and change my money, then have a drink in the first class lounge, so I decided to forego my refund. (Which, by the way, I think is their intent.) The money wasn’t worth my time.
I went into the fast track security line and was through the security machine in two minutes or so, but I noticed my carry-on bag had been diverted to another inspection. These inspections are painfully slow, but my plane was at 5, meaning I had to be at the gate by 4:40, when they close it. It was only 2:10.
A woman painstakingly went through my bag, took things apart, swabbed everything in sight, and then inserted things into machines. She told me I failed a test, but was using a second test which should clear things up. While I waited, KT showed up, consulted with the woman and came over to me.
KT: I’m afraid, sir, we have a bit of an issue, your bag is testing positive for chemical and/or explosive materials.
KT: What kind of doctor are you? What medicines do you prescribe or consume? Might they rub off in your luggage?
Me: I’m not the kind of doctor who helps people! I’m a PhD.
KT: In what field.
KT: Psychologists can prescribe medication.
Me: I’m not a psychologist and If I could prescribe anything, believe me, I’d be taking Valium at this very moment.
KT: I’m sure we can clear it up, but since you failed both tests I’m required to call the police.
KT: They are very rapid and thorough, and will get here within 20 minutes. I’m sure they will put this right.
Me: What do they need to do to put things right?
KT: They will interview you. Please just wait over there with me by the podium. We’ll keep your bag here, you can retain your briefcase, and I’ll hold your passport.
In about 15 minutes, an officer shows up in full regalia, including bullet proof vest and two cell phones dangling from it.
IN: Hello, sir, I’m Inspector Peters (name changed) and I’ll have to ask you a few questions.
The inspector proceeds to ask me the same questions KT did, and also about whether my bags were ever out of my sight. As he is questioning me about my Indonesian and Chinese visas, PC #1 and PC #2 arrive. They are both talking on their phones.
IN: What do you do specifically if you’re not a doctor?
ME: I’m a consultant.
IN: And why are you here in London?
Me: Teaching other consultants.
Me: Who are these other guys?
IN: They are counter-terrorism agents.
IN: It’s all procedure. We’ll have you on your plane in plenty of time if we are happy and the dogs are happy.
IN: It’s procedure, the dogs will have to sniff your bag. They are far better than the machine.
Me: Why dogs, plural?
IN: They each specialize in something the other doesn’t.
Me: What things?
IN: I can’t tell you that.
PC #1: May I ask you a few questions?
He proceeds to ask the same questions for the third time. I note that each of them has to copy all the information from my passport longhand on pads, and they help each other spell certain items.
PC #1: Tell me about the kind of consulting you do. And why are you going to Miami?:
Me: I’m not going to Miami. I’m going to Boston.
PC #1 rechecks my boarding pass and confirms that I am correct about my own destination. PC #2 is now off the phone and confers with his partner.
Me: Everything okay?
PC #2: Yes, we’re happy, but we have to wait for the dogs.
PC #1: I used to be a consultant, you know. I worked with Oracle and lived in Redwood Shores, California.
Me: What!!?? I lived in Redwood Shores for two years!
PC #1: How about that? I was thinking of getting back into consulting some time.
IN: The dogs are here.
DH #1 and #2 arrive, #1 with a black cocker spaniel and #2 with a brown and white cocker spaniel. While they are getting set up, IN asks if there might be any kind of spray or liquid I did not put in my plastic bag.
Me: Yes, the hotel gives guests sprays to use at night on the pillows to help with sleeping, and I threw two into my bag.
IN: I’ll bet that’s it.
He goes over to KT, confers, and they run the machines again.
IN: The machines have now passed you, but the swabs found the substance in the lining of your luggage. The spray probably leaked, but it’s up to the dogs, now.
Me: Sleeping spray turns up on your machines as explosive materials?
IN: Yes, it’s happened before.
Me: What happens if the dogs aren’t happy?
IN, frowning: We need to go through additional processes.
With everyone now watching, they choose CS #1, who trots into the security operations where my bag is and can no longer be seen. No one is saying anything. The dog emerges in 20 seconds.
KT: We’re good.
IN: Sorry to have troubled you sir.
Me: What about the other dog?
IN: Fortunately for you, it wasn’t needed.
Me: Will this be a problem if I renter the UK, which I plan to do next year?
IN: No, but my advice is to get rid of the bag. We had a woman with the exact same problem, and she kept telling us it was a coincidence that she was always singled out. But she kept using the same bag.
Me to handlers and IN: Can I take the dogs’ picture? Inspector, would you like to be in the shot?
IN: No, you can’t take my photo, against the rules.
DH #1: You can’t take ours either, and you’ll have to blur the dogs’ faces.
Me: You’re afraid of the dogs being recognized??!!
DH #1: Just having a bit of humor with you, sir.
It was now 3 pm. The British Concorde Club was just a few feet away. I asked the bar tender to fill the nearest glass to the top with Jameson’s.
If the car had come at 1:30 and I had waited in the VAT line, it would probably be 4:30 at that point and a train was required to reach my distant gate, which closed at 4:40.
On my way to the train, I stopped in a cigar store and took a handful of the best they had. It’s not every day that you go through a human hierarchy to find that a cocker spaniel holds your fate in its nose.
© Alan Weiss 2014
Print This Post