Late one recent Saturday evening, I am standing at a departure gate at Heathrow Airport. It is the furthest gate from the main terminal, and I am flying on the last plane out.
By now, it is just the passengers and the airline’s own staff. The passengers are having the final passport and boarding pass check before getting onboard: a formality after a great deal of security and bag searching.
Everyone is a little tired; the rest of the airport looks dark and closed down for the night.
“Excuse me, sir. We would like to do a search?”
“We would like you to give us your handbag and step this way.”
“OK. It is a manbag, or hand luggage. But not really a handbag.”
“Yes, sir. This way.”
My hand luggage is taken off to be searched again. I am now the last passenger at the gate. The flight is due to leave in about ten minutes.
“Sir, could you go behind the screen.”
There is a screen in the corner of a kiosk, in the opposite corner to where my bag is now being searched and unpacked. The young security official from the airline follows me.
“Sir, can you take your jacket off.”
“OK.” I take off my jacket.
“And your shoes.”
I take off my shoes.
My shoes are looked at very carefully. I think of the shoe bomber, who also lived near Bromley. I begin to wonder if they are profiling people from urban north Kent.
“Sir, your trousers.”
“Sir, please take your trousers off.”
The security official clearly was not expecting that response.
He begins to look like he doesn’t know what to do, bless him.
“You have no power to require me to do that. You also haven’t also given any good reason. I am sure any genuine security concerns you have can be addressed in other ways. You do not need to invade my privacy in this manner.”
“I think you probably need to get your manager, don’t you?”.
I am trying to be helpful.
He nods, hesitantly, and goes to get his manager, a middle-aged...