Heathrow Terminal 4 security policies

Doing business in the UK, coming from another country, usually requires air travel to/from London Heathrow (LHR) or London City (LCY) airport. LHR is the big London airport dealing with most international flights. LCY is a small airport near Canary Wharf (banking area) which is used mostly by business/banking travelers.

Naturally, on all airports you will have luggage checks (X-ray) and metal detector or nude-scanner body checks when you fly back. For some reason the security policies differ from airport to airport even between LHR and LCY (both in London). The person and hand luggage security area of LHR Terminal 4 consists of a luggage belt with an X-Ray machine and a metal scanner. When the metal scanners gives an alarm you are body searched/padded down by a security officer. This is pretty similar on all airports.

You have to take your laptop and fluids and sometimes other equipment like an e-reader but there is no fixed policy what electronic equipment needs to scanned separately. Also this is pretty common for most airports. So, your hand luggage is scanned by the X-Ray machine but after the X-Ray machine is where story starts.

I always carry around large bag with one or more laptops, cables, external hard disks, tablet, network equipment, headset, bluetooth devices and so on. Usually over 100 items. I have packed these items in handsome smaller bags more or less sorted per function. When I go through airport security I am used that the security officer takes my bag or smaller bags for a re-scan. At this particular time my bag was the 8th bag on the re-check belt so I had to wait a considerable time before my luggage was re-checked.

The recheck usually consists of unpacking all your luggage (so take care what items you pack in your hand luggage, it can be very embarrassing!) and some or more items are placed in a bin and are rechecked by the X-Ray machine. Other items are touched with a cloth which is used for chemical analyses were they can detect if your luggage has been in contact with explosives, that you have smoked marihuana or that you have voted Labour at the last elections.

This picture is an overview of the LHR T4 security area:

Being very early for my flight I waited patiently and started to talk with a supervising security officer where he told me that it was the policy to have at least 3 bags waiting on the re-check belt.

This information astonished me for several reasons:
  • This means that you always have at least 3 persons waiting for the recheck
  • There is a some randomness if you luggage will be rechecked. The more bags you carry, the higher the chance
  • This policy is not about efficient use of security staff, e.g. only place a bag on the recheck belt with suspicious items or when an security officer is free, so it must be only to annoy the travelers
  • The UK security staff is not in a hurry. They take their time for every step of the process and it is your problem if your miss your plane (it took me 23 and 36 minutes to go through security the last two times)
  • Security staff are usually not higher educated persons but they have full control over you during security scanning. This is where fascist behavior is popping up:
    •  You have to watch the security officer unpacking your bag to "prevent claims of theft of breaking stuff" (Security Officers Manager). However, the luggage that is going to be rechecked is out of sight anyway during carrying to X-Ray machine. The ideal spot to steal or break things. If you do not watch the Security Officers stops and calls his manager.
    • If you complain about the long waiting time, the security takes out every item at a very slow speed. In my case, over 100, took more than 10 minutes.
    • If you want to communicate with security officer, to point him at a forgotten item, he responds with:"I was not talking to you".

Avoid traveling through Heathrow T4. It will take you at least 15 minutes which is providing no additional security. Funny example: the four potential lethal items I carried were not part of the rescan. The security officer checked them (in his hands) but put them aside. The "3 bags" policy is only there to annoy the travelers and to put on a lot of stress. Another detail: one female security officer was crying full during while doing her work. I assume that she could not stand the frustrated travelers' remarks.Only after 10 minutes was taken apart with her manager who start a discussion with her in full sight of the passengers, the bastard.

Airport security policies are good but here they have no added value (security) and provides no good experience by travelers (and security staff). Imagine that your husband, wife or friend is working for LHR security and is coming home after a working day like this. I hope you have a dog...

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