Israeli Airport Security

One thing you hear all the time is that Israeli airport security is both more rigorous than American and also somehow less intrusive. The most recent version of that is making the rounds today.

I don’t want to generalize too much from a single trip through Ben Gurion Airport, but I’d have to say that my experience leaving Tel Aviv was far and away the most unpleasant encounter I’d ever had with airport security officials in the decade. Moscow in 1998 was worse. As best I could tell, things went pretty smoothly as long as you were (a) Israeli, (b) traveling with an Israeli, or (c) traveling with some kind of well-established tour group. I think this may be how the majority of people go through the airport, which may account for its good reputation. But it took me approximately three hours to get from the initial passport check through to the food court. I was told that I couldn’t take my iPad onto the plane, and therefore would have to check a whole bag that I’d been planning to carry on so that the bag could contain the forbidden device, and the same thing happened to two of the guys I was traveling with. Each individual item from the bad I was allowed to carry on had to be separately wiped down for traces of explosive residue and several items had to be wiped multiple times.

I was groped a couple of times, yelled at by surly Russian immigrants, accused of “lying” because I’d forgotten I had a second iPod charging cord in my bag, interrogated several times about who I’d talked to, etc.

What is true is that except for the Russian immigrants, who do bring the unique Russian approach to customer service, everyone is exceedingly polite. That said, the process took three hours! What’s more, unlike with American security I actually felt somewhat threatened the whole time, like they might just decide I was too left-wing and destroy my laptop. Fortunately, I’d been warned this would likely happen and was delivered to the airport four hours before takeoff. But if you had to arrive four hours before your Atlanta-Boston flight’s scheduled departure, then you’d vitiate the entire utility of air travel. I think the most sensible approach to airport security would be to simply accept a slightly higher risk that someone, somewhere might blow up a plane. Right now in the United States flying somewhere is orders of magnitude safer than driving their in a car. But it’s become a huge pain in the ass. Reducing the “pain in the ass” factor would be a good idea.