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Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

Back to the Tunnel of Love

Airports consider time-saving security tunnels but can anyone save you from fiendish Spanish cucumbers?


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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IATA wants tunnels for security checks by 2015
After all those x-rays, what's left/ photo-illustration: Vijay Verghese.

THE WORLD is becoming an unsafe place. Forget friendly neighbourhood muggers. These are the good guys. Think Kalashnikovs, landmines, and unmanned drones piloted by pumped-up teens in uniform half a world away that hit more weddings (and funerals) than turbaned radicals. And now, as the Communist Manifesto presciently warned, a spectre is haunting Europe. The spectre of iceberg lettuce, Brussels sprouts, and Spanish cucumber. It is a fearsome trio.

E coli is stalking Europe and people everywhere are running for cover. We have all hated vegetables since childhood, and we were right. There is something deeply disturbing about lettuce. Floppy, passive, stupid, it just sits there. Waiting to be consumed. Yet veggies are fiendishly clever, each one a potential biohazard in disguise. Your refrigerator could be the next terror hot spot. While most worry about typhoid and cholera shots for India where E coli in all its forms is a cheerful part of the travel experience, the new bacterial epicentre is a babbling brook in Frankfurt. Yes, you can get a frightfully bad tummy upset – and a whole lot more – in Europe too.

How the Europeans stole E coli from India and reengineered it into something wholly different, and lethal, is a subject best left to international courts and the WTO. Indian “basmati” rice, following a white-knuckle biopiracy adventure, was only narrowly rescued from the maws of the US patent office. What next as Europe and the West tries to catch up with the Asian juggernaut?

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Vegetables pose risks but they can be neutralised. Some may recall the excellent Monty Python skit on defending against an attacker armed with a banana. The solution? Grab the banana, peel and eat it, thus disarming the would-be assassin. Europe’s new super veggies can’t be disarmed quite that simply. I have Belgian cauliflowers that have lain in my fridge long enough to mutate into intelligent life forms. One day they may simply walk out and take to robbing banks and terrorising the citizenry.

What does all this bode for airport security? We already have pat-downs, x-rays, 3D scans, stun-guns, and so on, everything short of lobotomy which is, of course, the safest option. Now IATA wants to introduce tunnels for added security and faster processing. Tunnels are a brilliant deterrent. We're not talking Tunnel of Love. We're talking about a dark space packed with whirring, beeping devices, scoping out your most intimate orifices. In equal measure there is the thrill (of the unknown) for the regulars, and fear (of being discovered with a small penis), the torment of would-be suicide bombers headed for those 72 hormonal virgins.

The focus is to move from objects to people, something the Israelis have practised with huge success using profiling, while tunnels seperate "known travellers" from "high risk" passengers

The idea is for passengers to walk at normal pace through a designated 20ft hi-tech tunnel, getting scanned for drugs and explosives. No fuss. The tunnels would segregate "known travellers" considered low risk, "normal" passengers, and "high risk" passengers destined for enhanced full body scans. This three-channel walk-through approach does away with the tedium of security and long lines. It also does away with undressing in front of strangers and sensual pat-downs that appealed so much to some. For many over 50, like me, that’s about as much excitement you can hope for.

Said outgoing IATA (International Air Transport Association) Director General Giovanni Bisignani, "Passengers should be able to get from curb to boarding gate with dignity... that means without stopping, stripping or unpacking, and certainly not groping." Back to Dullsville.

Think iris scanners and smart chips in passports. The focus is to move from objects to people, something the Israelis have practised with huge success using biometrics and profiling. IATA believes "mood swings and uncharacteristic behaviour" could attract red flags at these checkpoints of the future. It shall be interesting how this pans out. In 2010, over 50 million weeping, depressed, sleepy, tired, emotionally unhinged passengers transited Hong Kong International Airport. The figure for London's busy Heathrow was 65 million while Beijing Capital International Airport handled 73 million passengers. That's a lot of moody people to process.

Governments are concerned about sharing their nationals' data on computer chips but as anyone who has made a duty-free purchase at an airport knows, even the shops swipe your boarding pass and scan your passport, drawing down pretty much all your personal data going back to your past life as an Egyptian princess.

Tunnels are good. But why stop short? Twenty feet is no fun at all. The tunnels could reach all the way from kerbside to the aeroplane obviating the need for immigration, customs and more. Or, taken to a logical conclusion, they could be extended all the way to your final destination, doing away with expensive planes, airport security, and excess fees. Send your pesky boss on a foreign boondoggle to Rio, in a tunnel. He may never come back, especially if you arrange for someone to offer him some fresh German iceberg lettuce while he is there.

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