Getting Stopped by the Airport Security

Anne Bonfert

A first for many of us

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Photo by Oberaichwald on Pixabay

I’ve been traveling a lot during the past years. And I’ve been flying a lot too. With different airlines from lots of different airports. I’ve passed hundreds of security checks and walked through the airport security control just as many times.

Sometimes there are minor issues while passing those checks. You forget your scissor in your hand luggage or forget to take out your tablet from the bag. They might find something on your body where there is nothing to find. But apart from that’s it’s usually a quick walkthrough.

Not this time.

This is a story about a two-hour process of passing the security check. And not because of the queue in front of it. There was no queue at all. Remember it’s a pandemic and nobody is traveling.

The backstory

My partner and I are professional skydivers. We jump out of planes for a living. Our working gear is a parachute. What laptops are for businessmen is a rig for us. That is what you call the backpack your parachutes are in. A skydiving rig.

So it is rather obvious that we always travel with our parachutes. To work somewhere we need them. A rig can have the value of 3000 to 8000 Euros depending on how old the gear is you are using. That is quite a lot of money pressed in one backpack.

And there is no way I am checking in that much money. My parachute goes in as hand luggage when I’m flying. Because I am allowed to. And because I do not want to deal with the chance of some airport staff member losing it or misplacing it along the way.

I do know some people are checking in their parachutes in the main bags but I don’t. The risk is too high. For me at least.

Especially since I am allowed to take it as carry-on luggage. The manufacturer provides every parachute holder with a card you have to show at airport security. It’s just for them to explain everything in there.

There are some cables, other metal, and even one tiny explosive in it. But they are all explained on the card and cleared for transporting on airplanes. So traveling with the gear is rather simple.

Often it’s entertaining because the airport staff gets to see something different than the usual laptops, cameras, and full water bottles. So they start chatting with you. About what you do and how fascinating that is.

Of course, you always have it in the back of your mind that someone will give you trouble about it, but it usually runs rather smooth. Especially when the queues in front of the security control are endless long.

Different times

Not so much this time. There was actually no queue at all. Five checks were open and nobody was waiting. We got quite early to the airport. I’ve never been that early for a flight like today.

But Namibia, our destination, requires from us a negative Covid test which isn’t allowed to be older than 72 hours, and in order to get that we decided to drive 12 hours before departure time to the airport and get the test done.

Having so much time to spare, we walked through the airport hall but there wasn’t much to do. Most of the shops were closed and the charging points in the waiting hall weren’t working. Yeah, I know. 21st century. Welcome to Germany.

So we decided let’s go through the security check and see what’s on the other side. Maybe a few more stores are open. Somehow we needed to kill some time.

Luckily we did that.

First try

Walking through the empty hallway we get to the security check and get asked to go to two different checkpoints since they are all free. And the staff is bored. Of course.

I place my parachute on the band and the guy in front of me asks if I do skydive. He used to be a paratrooper when he was in the military. We chat a bit about skydiving while I pack out liquids, my camera, and my tablet.

I get asked to go into the full-body scanner. Of course, it beeps. It always does. I have too many bracelets on my left hand. Even though they are all cheap bracelets, the scanner picks them up.

A lady has a closer look at them and clears me. None of my gear went through yet. The parachute was the first item I placed on the belt and it’s still in the scanner. If I have papers for it they ask me.

I tell them that my partner has the card for it and it’s with their colleagues right now. Three police officers approach the scene. A lady having a Kalashnikov in her hand standing right next to me.

I don’t feel intimidated since I know I’m not doing anything wrong. I get told that I need papers from the airlines confirming I am allowed to take the parachute into the plane.

What a joke. I’ve been traveling through so many airports with so many different airlines with my gear and never got asked this. I repeat to have a look at that card where everything is explained.

Meanwhile, at the checkpoint of my partner, the staff gets more aggressive. Asking my partner if he doesn’t have a passport. Or accusing him of not having one. How did this change so quickly?

The police officer comes now closer asking me to show him our passports. I don’t know why he needs my passport. I thought the parachute was the problem.

I explain to him that I don’t have my passport because it is still in the box waiting to be checked behind the parachute. He looks angry at me like why I don’t have it on me.

I am not allowed to walk through the scanner having anything on me. How should I have a passport with me if they don’t clear my luggage?

He tells the staff to pass through my passports and spends ten minutes reading through them. Yes, there are lots of stamps in them. Looks like we’re having a fun life? I do agree.

No, those were not his words. He hands back the passports to me and the guy from security explains to me I have to go back out to the service counter of our airline to get the permission paper. Apparently, it’s easy to get that. They will pass the gear, they just want that paper.

Are you serious? My partner walks to me from the other checkpoint telling me the same. I look at the two female police officers next to me with their AK-47 between them and me. I get it. I smile and say we’ll be back just now.

Back at the airline counter

So here we are. Walking back into the airport hall towards the service counter. I talk to the lady about the paper they request from her and she starts to sigh. Something she has never heard about.

Well according to those officers at the checkpoint this has always been the rule. They said I am lying when I said I traveled through this and many other airports in and out without those papers.

Why would I lie?

The lady disappears to talk to her supervisor and comes back 15 minutes later. She can’t help us. Her supervisor hasn’t heard about that case either and sends us down to the check-in counter.

Here we go back down again. My partner is saying he won’t stand in the queue, he’s gonna go straight to the business class check-in. Not necessary my dear. Nobody is waiting.

Five counters are open and we walk straight through to the first one telling “our story”. She immediately starts calling people, gets diverted, and referred to different departments.

Eventually, she hangs up the phone. She doesn’t get it. She never had a case like that. They don’t have a piece of paper she can issue. Because a parachute doesn’t qualify as a dangerous good.

She turns around and addresses all the other employees at the counters around her. Nobody has ever heard about it. They’re joking. We’re laughing together. We get asked when our flight is going. I say “no worries, we got lots of time”.

It’s shift change and another lady takes over our case. All this time not a single passenger came to check-in. And this is the biggest airline operating at this airport.

The lady says she’s gonna go to security now and talk to them. To find out what they want from us. And what’s all the fuss about. Meanwhile, we wait at the counter chatting to a very frustrated staff member.

We’re listening to how he is upset about politics. How he hates how they set these restrictions and crash entire economies. He goes on and on. I just nod, laugh now and then, and agree.

We do need the airline on our side right now. So let’s do the chitchat he needs and keep him happy. We’re both having two pieces of carry-on luggage which is one too much. Nobody mentioned anything about that yet. So keep smiling.

The lady comes back to us from security.

I’m your official paper now.

Since there is no such paper these guys are requesting she will be the confirming statement saying the airline allows us to take this on board. Wow. To see people going out of their way like that is amazing!

Let’s try again

She chooses the closest security check first where we get sent away because we’re boarding from another gate. She’s complaining that she’s not wearing the right shoes for this excursion but she’s happy about the change. Something different for once. Not just sitting on a chair all day long.

Well, I appreciate it a lot. We arrive at the security check and start to place everything in the boxes on the belt again. She stays on the other side talking to the staff. We walk through.

I beep. Again. When walking through the scanner. Again. She checks my bracelets. Again. Nothing found. Again. They keep our parachutes in the scanner.

I tell them that my official document is standing in front of the security check and send them to the lady from our airline. Again my partner and I are at two different belts. Because that’s how they wanted it. Now both are blocked.

A lady walks past me talking on the phone holding our security card from the parachute in her hands telling me not to worry she’ll sort it out. Oh wow. Thank you. Let me sit back and watch the scene.

The guy who send us back the first time disappeared. He’s hiding somewhere. I guess he does know he misused his power. That’s how the airline staff member described it.

More police officers come to the scene. I’m starting to find it entertaining. Listening to the conversations they are having. A police officer holding an AK-47 says he’s never seen something like this in 20 years working here. He doesn’t get why they don’t let us pass.

The lady who walked past me earlier is again on the phone smiling at me. She’s talking to her supervisor now. The policeman is saying if she doesn’t get right he will call his superior. Meanwhile, I think he has already quite a high ranking.

Another police officer comes to the scene. It looks interesting. He wants to see what’s happening. Guess he’s bored. Are we allowed to charge for the entertainment?

My partner gives me the look. All you can do when you’re at the airport security standing meters away separated from security staff and police officers wearing rifles.

It’s okay. I’ll remain quiet.

The turning point

The employee from the airline talking out front with the policeman and the security staff is giving me a thumbs up. Does that mean we are done? I smile at her. Remembering I am wearing a mask not being able to show facial expressions. I give her thumbs up too. That should mean thank you. I hope she understands it.

We get the okay from the police. The security staff is still scanning our parachutes. Again. My partner’s rig also gets searched for drugs. Without anyone asking for it. Just saying…

We pack all our valuables back into the bags and wait for the parachutes to get finally be given back into our hands. Done. We laugh. Still surrounded by Kalashnikovs.

Walking now past rifle wearing police officers wishing us a safe flight and a fun trip. More security staff members turning towards us walking down the aisle greeting us.

Finally, the guy who originally sent us back appears again, apologizing for it and saying “so now you made it, on the third try”.

Keep quiet and keep walking. Don’t get upset. We walk past the last officer and sigh. We made it. I can’t believe it.

I cannot believe what just happened.

Learning curve

I still haven’t processed everything we just went through but if I would be able to give anyone some advice on future travels it would be about time. Be early at the airport. These times nothing goes as planned.

Even though there aren’t any queues at the airport I’ve seen people standing at counters for hours due to canceled or changed flights and other reasons. Nothing runs smooth. No booking is a normal booking.

The second point to take from this experience is to always keep the airline happy. I don’t know what we would have done if the airline employee would have refused to help us out.

He could have just said they don’t transport parachutes. Not like there’s such a rule but people make weird decisions these days. Having the airline the entire time covering our backs is what brought us eventually through security.

And maybe the fact that there was nothing wrong with our luggage.

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I am a traveler. Photographer. Writer. Teacher. Skydiving instructor. Adventure enthusiast. Nature lover. And fell in love with the African continent. My stories go around travel, nature and all kinds of adventurous activities.

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