Why the Kiwis have got air travel right

Relaxed ... New Zealand's airports are less stressful.
Relaxed ... New Zealand's airports are less stressful. Photo: Edwina Pickles

There's something amazing that happens in New Zealand. It's not Richie McCaw getting away with all those blatant fouls – it's the airports.

I was at Auckland airport a few weeks ago, flying down to Nelson, and the strangest thing happened. I checked in at the little electronic stand, put my own bag-tag on, then dumped my pack on the conveyer belt.

After that, it was time to go to the gate. So I wandered down, through a few shops, and joined the queue to board. Our flight had been called and I was walking across the tarmac before I realised: I haven't been through security.

My hand-luggage was unscanned. My person was un-metal-detected. I could have had a box of exotic snakes in my carry-on and Dick Cheney's home arsenal strapped to my chest, and no one would have been any the wiser.

On domestic flights in New Zealand – if you're flying in the smaller prop-driven planes – you don't have to go through a security check before boarding.

I've never seen that anywhere in the world.

I had the contents of my bag tipped onto a counter and sifted through in Oaxaca, Mexico, because the airport didn't have an X-ray scanner. That was to board a six-seater plane for a half-hour domestic flight. Not sure what sort of damage I was going to do there.

In Lalibela, Ethiopia, I had my sunglasses carefully inspected for ... actually, I have no idea what they were inspected for. But it was a careful inspection.

"Are these metal?" the security guy said, waving them in front of me.

"Yes."

He nodded, then put them back in my bag. Ohhhhhh-kay.

The point is that at every other airport in the world, big or small, busy or quiet, clean or manky, they search your bags before you get on the plane. Any plane. It's an established travel routine: check in, go through security, board.

Of course, this clearly opens New Zealand up to all manner of security issues, and that shows by the high number of problems they've been ha... Wait, hang on. They don't have any problems. Everyone goes about their business, and air travel is a whole lot easier.

It makes you wonder: do we really need all of these airport security measures that have become the norm?

I realise the world has changed significantly since 9/11, giving the US all the justification necessary to make you take off your shoes at the security line, or get a pat-down from the TSA, or even take a full scan of your naked-looking body.

Australia doesn't go that far, but we're still pretty strict, and there have been calls recently to tighten security even further, in a crackdown on latte-sipping boat people, or something.

Already we have a raft of what seem to the casual eye like fairly pointless measures, but which at least allow us to put on a proud front of security.

I'm a serial candidate for the old random explosives test, but I'd love to see statistics on how many potential terrorists have been caught by that method. Only the extremely dumb ones, you'd think – the ones lax enough to leave traces of explosives on their clothes.

Probably the same ones who tick "yes" on the US visa waiver when it asks, "Are you a terrorist?"

The obvious argument for all of these measures is that if they only catch one person in the act of terrorism, then it's a job well done. But is that one person really out there? Is little old Australia really a terrorist target?

Our next-door neighbours in NZ clearly don't think they are. And they're doing fine.

Do you think security measures in Australia are over the top? Or do you think New Zealand's security is dangerously lax? Which country has the tightest security you've seen?

Find Ben Groundwater on his website, follow him on Twitter, or just email bengroundwater@gmail.com

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