Manchester Airport is a Health Risk
I arrived at Manchester Airport yesterday morning with plenty of time for my flight; I’d never been there before so didn’t know what to expect. It’s quite a large place with lots going on, so I figured it’d be easy to kill the hour before my flight. I had already gone through the rigmarole of separating my washbag so that all my liquids were in separate clear plastic bags, and I had my stuff all ready for inspection at the security area. When I got near the front of the queue I noticed that they had a fairly full-on security gate: there was a turnstile which let you through the initial metal detector, and once you’ve been checked for metallic objects, you are then presented with two glass doors surrounded by illuminated arrows; you then go through the door which lights up. One door leads you to your recently x-rayed belongings, and behind the other lurks a backscatter x-ray scanner. At this time I don’t know if this is a random allocation or if it’s due to Big Brother. Maybe if I’d been one place ahead in the queue I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.
So my turn comes and I go through the turnstile, through the metal detector, and stand in front of the doors, awaiting my fate, and hoping that the right hand door would light up and show me my freedom. Alas. I walked through the left hand door, where a kindly gentleman instructed me to place my feet on the marked circles. I calmly explained that I would rather not. He asked me to stay where I was and went to get a security officer (I’m not certain of her job title). She was a very friendly and not at all threatening lady, who walked over armed with information leaflets on the backscatter machine. I told her that I work with radiation, have spent the previous three years studying it, and that I had plenty of information on how the machines work and the radiation implications. Her body language changed slightly at this and she told me fairly dejectedly that unfortunately there was no alternative, as Manchester Airport do not allow passengers to opt out of the backscatter scanner. She asked me to email the Department for Transport and have it out with them; she said that maybe if enough people made a fuss, something might change. I’ll be honest and admit that I was so relieved to be met with someone so reasonable: I have never been on the wrong side of the law, and certainly never on the wrong side of airport security and I didn’t have the guts to get in trouble with both on this occasion. The conversation was very polite and considered, but she explained that the only way to avoid the scanner would be to not get on the flight. If I had the money I would have probably opted to take the train, but I’m still an unwaged student. I asked if they had any paperwork they could give me to prove that I had been scanned, but they don’t, which seemed odd; all she could give me were some leaflets on the machine itself. Maybe it’s part of the anonymisation process or something.
So I assumed the position, reluctantly. All the while very aware that I was being stared at by other passengers, as the entire charade was being conducted in a glass box in front of the security queue. It was quite humiliating to be honest, I know that assumptions were probably being made about why I was causing a problem, but I really don’t care. What worries me, is that there are no signs on the backscatter machine denoting what it actually is. It’s just two large black boxes which you stand inbetween with your arms in the air. At no point is it explained to you what the machine actually does or is. Is this because if they did, more people would refuse to enter it?
I’m going to do some more research, but for now I’ll leave you with these links: