Thursday, September 6, 2012

Charming the security at Israel's Airport

Hello from the lounge of Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, just outside Tel Aviv, on the first leg of my long journey via three countries homewards to Manila. I'm literally going home to host three dinners -- and the first dinner, for visitors from abroad, begins the very same evening I arrive, 2.5 hours after touchdown.

I keep joking that if my flight is delayed, my guests will have to have dinner without me. But I certainly hope this won't be the case.


This morning I had my last delicious Israeli breakfast of fruits and salads, salads and more salads. I can't even remember when was the last time I had rice; and I really loved the Israeli salad of cubed cucumbers and tomatoes, with a dash of herbs, and olive oil and vinegar. I started every meal in Israel this way, and this was all I had for breakfast as well.

In Tel Aviv, it's been a big plate of the sweetest watermelons I've ever tasted, followed by two plates of Israeli salad with slices of smoked salmon, topped with all kinds of seeds. Talk about a very healthy breakfast.


Then I took my sweet time packing up before my 27-hour journey back to Manila. It's not usually this long to get to Israel, but I wanted to fly a certain airline and take a particular route, so now I have to pay for it on the way back -- literally in kilometers -- by suffering through a pretty tortuous route with one especially long layover in Amman, Jordan.

My driver this morning was quite upset, actually, as I was cutting the time so close and we would both be out of sorts if I missed my flight for some reason. So he drove pretty fast. But as I am in a different country and airport almost every week, I'm sure you'll understand that I want to spend as little time as possible in airports.

On the airport wall


Thank goodness for airport lounges, which are my portable offices around the world. I head straight for the electric plug, access the WiFi and have sparkling water. But today, while waiting for my Royal Jordanian flight in the lounge, I actually had -- guess what? -- salad and hummus again. Delicious.

On the airport wall

Anyway, back to the topic of security at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.

I would advise most travelers leaving Israel to make sure they arrive in the airport with plenty of time to spare as the security lines are quite long if you have bad timing, and the security check is understandably exhaustive due to the environment.

Fortunately, I had one of these VIP cards from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which enabled me to get some special treatment, although the check was no less exhaustive.

Then, a very nice young man who worked with airport security, was already waiting for me as my car sped into the airport. Without him, I don't know what I would have done.


On the airport wall

In fact, after it was all over and I was in the duty-free area on the way to the lounge, I said to him: "What would I have done without you?"

Perhaps Israelis are very frank people. I've been here six days and I still have to meet someone who didn't talk in the most direct way possible. No one minces words here and you just have to get used to it. Anyway, he said to me, his supposed VIP guest: "You would still be stuck at the end of that very long line."

I had to laugh, because it was true. So actually, in the half-hour or so that we were together, we got along very well.

Scroll down to read about the heavy-duty machinery at the airport...


Anyway, the security guards asked many questions. Then my baggages were put through the most menacing x-ray machines I have ever seen. Real heavy-duty stuff here with incredible jaw-dropping technology.

My bag didn't make it cleanly through the x-ray machine -- there was apparently something suspicious in it -- so I had to go through a manual check after the x-ray.

But unlike other airports where a manual check really is manual and nothing else, in Tel Aviv the nice lady who opened my bags had an electronic screen next to her  -- something like two iPads stuck together. This electronic gadget told her exactly what I had in my bag, including the number of items of each.

She doubled-checked her technology and asked me: "How many shoes do you have?"


I tried to remember. Then I replied: "Four." I'd brought two from Manila and bought two in Israel, including a very cool pair of red sandals in a style I'd never ever usually wear. But they made me look so good I just had to have them.

I'd also bought a pair of very light sandals in Jerusalem -- just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- partly to humor this friend of mine coming along with me to South Africa. 

On safari in South Africa
We're going in a very small plane from Johannesburg straight to the private airstrip of our safari property, you see, and this plane only allows 20 kgs per person. So even if we both have 30 kgs each and more on business on our international flight from Manila to South Africa, I'm confined to 20 kgs for the small charter plane from Joburg to our safari destination.

I don't think I've ever traveled with a luggage that weighed less than 20 kgs before and probably neither has he. But he's been constantly reminding me that that's my limit.

So when I saw these sandals in Jerusalem -- again, the kind I never really wear -- I thought: "This is so appropriate for a 20 kg wardrobe." So I bought them.

Anyway, back to the story. The lady at security asked me: "How many electronic appliances do you have?"

I had an eye massager and a hair dryer. And don't worry, Boss, the eye massager isn't coming along to South Africa.

On the airport wall


All harmless stuff, basically. But something had red-flagged my bag, and my airport escort and I tried to figure out what it was.

He said: "It must be the mud." Yeah. I'd bought a ton of Dead Sea products, including two packs of actual Dead Sea mud. I could imagine that showing up on the x-rays as some unexplainable substance that was heavy and sinister.


In the end, guess what red-flagged my bag?  10 magnetic flower vases that I'd bought at the gift shop of the Israeli Museum of Art in Tel Aviv. They're beautiful and so unusual that I bought two sets, intending to use them immediately, for the second dinner I'm hosting in Manila this Saturday.

The lady inspector looked at them with great interest. I could understand that they would show up on her screen. They were ten fairly large rectangular sticks in metal, and with magnets at the bottom. Fortunately, they were still in their box and I even had the receipt from the museum to prove it.

One thing's for sure. The security were all polite and nice, and they joked with me as I made my way from one round to another, making conversation about shoes and Dead Sea mud; but not for one second did they take their eye off the ball and let their guard down. Thank goodness for that. Because of them, everyone flying out of Tel Aviv can feel safe on a plane.

Just another morning in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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