In which the Scott family discovers the secret of international terrorism...all you need is a plastic killer whale
Date: April, 1995
Trip: Axum Airport to Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa
Flight time: 1 hour
Airline: Ethiopian Airlines, Domestic Network
Cabin crew: All devastatingly attractive
Meal: What the pink paste was on those sandwiches I dread to think.
So, if we are all happy with the assumption that as long as we remember to remove our high-heeled shoes when leaving the aircraft we are basically safe from nose-diving to a messy death (Are we all happy? Good. Thought so.), we will move on to pre-flight security checks. As we all know these have become much more stringent in the past ten years since September 11th and other incidents. Almost entirely by the way, the so-called ‘Underpants Bomber’, who tried to blow up a plane over Christmas 2009, was in the class above me at my school in Togo. Make of that what you will. Anyway, now everyone who flies is required to be very dextrous at removing items of clothing; we are now expected to remove shoes (it used to be just boots), belts, coats and jackets, keys and phones and to partially unpack carefully arranged bags whose zips were at breaking point as it was. The problem is, you see, that I remember flying before anyone had a laptop! All this is a minor gripe, however, since I think most people would agree that erring on the safe side in these situations is not something airports can be blamed for. I’m reserving judgement on the x-ray machines until I actually encounter one.
I sometimes feel I have been unluckier than most when going through airport security, until a few years ago I couldn’t pass through a metal detector without it bleeping and even if it didn’t I would be subjected to the pat down by airport security. The most harrowing of these incidents occurred in Amsterdam, Schipol Airport some six years ago when a burly female security officer thought nothing of grabbing the front of my bra and twanging it forwards before letting it go so that it snapped back painfully. Presumably she was hoping something would fall out.
‘Just the usual in there’, I quipped. Not a titter.
I having a sneaking suspicion that my metal-detector allure was due to the fact that for many years I looked a little like a hippy, but in recent years have tried to appear more ordinary. I should perhaps mention the alternative theory, proposed by people who I counted among friends, that I am not called Dozy Rosie for nothing, and that it has taken twenty years of regular flying for me to remember to remove my bracelets, and that getting a much needed haircut had nothing to do with it. Shows what they know.
All this is roundabout way of getting to my maddest airport security story which, as previously mentioned, took place when flying Ethiopian Internal Airlines from Axum back home to Addis Ababa. It had been a hell of a journey already when we were finally able to trudge towards the gate. Our flight bad been delayed for over twenty four hours, which, for a one hour flight, I’m sure you’ll agree, was something of an achievement, and all we wanted was to get back home.
Now I’m sure you are under the impression that a nine-year-old girl is an unlikely hijacker, but apparently not. Alright, my parents might have been over-ambitious to expect to get through with those pots of marmalade, I mean we all know how sticky it can be and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we might have planned to smother the pilot with it, but how they thought my nine-year-old sister’s plastic killer whale would advance the heinous plot I do not know. Yes, you heard me correctly, a plastic killer whale. About eighteen centimetres long with red eyes and an evil grin the killer whale had played the essential villain in many imaginative games between me and my sisters, a quality which airport security at Axum airport clearly recognised. Puzzled by the unfamiliar shape in my sister’s bag they had her remove it and then spent the next ten minutes passing it worriedly around before confiscating it and finally allowing us through. Of course we have spent many hours trying to understand what they could possibly have thought it was and in what way it could disrupt the flight, but apart from hitting the pilot very hard over the head with it or poking him in the eye with the dorsal fin, we have so far come up with nothing.