"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


Heathrow fails to get my vote

Blog | By Nigel Summerley | Jun 26, 2018

Heathrow or Gatwick? The government may favour Heathrow but for me it’s a no-brainer. Gatwick is easier to get to from south London – and it still treats travellers as if they were human beings.

Attempting to get a flight from Heathrow Terminal 5 a couple of weeks ago, I was treated in a way that could have made a good training video for US Homeland Security on the Mexican border.

It all started because there was a ‘ping’ when I walked through security. An employee with a heavy Dutch/German accent that made his English almost incomprehensible stopped me and indicated that I would have to step into a body scanner. I explained that I wouldn’t do that because of the unknown health risks of body scanners. He then said a manager would have to be sent for. I waited. And waited. Finally, the manager arrived.

‘Did I understand,’ he asked, ‘why I was being held?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘because I can barely understand a word that your colleague is saying.’

‘Why did you have to say that?’ he asked me.

‘Because you asked me if I understood what was happening – so I was explaining that I didn’t, and why I didn’t.’

He gave me a look that suggested things were not going to be easy from this point on.

‘Why won’t you use the body scanner?’ he asked.

‘Because I’ve read countless articles about the health unknowns associated with them.’

‘What exactly?’

‘General concerns. Look, I have a plane to catch. Do I look like a terrorist?’

‘There is no need to use racist language,’ he said – completely unfathomably but also threateningly. ‘Because you refuse to use the body scanner, you’ll have to wait until we can do a private body search.’

With that, he disappeared for some time. When he reappeared, he and another security man escorted me to a dingy backroom and asked me to sign a scruffy-looking piece of paper which was apparently a consent to a body search.

‘What if I don’t sign this? What if I don’t consent to this?’ I asked.

‘Then we call the police,’ said the security manager.

If I wanted to catch my plane, I had no choice. I signed. They did a search which involved nothing much different to what they could have done back at the security gate, patting me down to check that I had nothing concealed on me – except that they did it twice, just to prolong the misery. Then they said that my suitcase would have to be opened up and fully searched. Which they then did and found nothing of interest. Eventually I was allowed to go – without any form of apology for being treated like a criminal.

Never mind an expanded Heathrow, from now on I’ll be doing my best to avoid the existing one.