Cosmo-topia! London-Luton: Mishaps in Border Security by Imogen Dixon-Smith

Posted on August 3, 2011

Border security is generally a rather uneventful process. You stand in line with a bunch of other disgruntled passengers, whose clothes still have that faint smell of aeroplane on them, shuffling forward every so often,  kicking your bags along the ground for the ride. Things get a bit more exciting when it is time to choose a line (and you make the executive decision about which one will move the fastest), but all in all it’s a pretty dull experience. I can’t say that any border security experience will beat my family’s favourite at L.A. airport which included mixed-up passports, sunburn, fainting, bad Australian impressions by an American officer and a wheelchair. But reviewing American border control would open up a whole, industrial-sized can of worms, so I’ll stick to the more modest process of the United Kingdom’s border protection practices.

I arrived at London Luton airport, and after travelling for weeks on trains between various European countries and not passing through a single passport checkpoint I was shocked that I had to fill in an entry form. Yes, I was one of those annoying people rushing to fill out the form in the line (when really there’s no need to rush because you’re going to be there for a while). The next thing that caught my attention was the slightly xenophobic set-up of the passport checking process. Six whole counters stood before me dedicated to EU passport holders while ‘all other passports’ were ushered into one long line behind one poor officer. However, if this had not been the case then the stars would not have aligned and I would have missed the show that lay ahead of me.

Travellers strolling around London Luton.

My impeccable timing meant that I stood in line ahead of my friend The Impatient Fool. The subtlety of this man’s pushing-in methods was incredible. He would sneak up next to me as if there were two different lines, then wait, tapping his foot and checking his watch, adding in a sigh every so often. It took some of my greatest wits to figure out his intentions. I implemented the old ‘blocking’ move, but he was all over it, and changed from my left- to right-hand side. This little jig we had going continued the whole length of the queue. I think he still thought I was oblivious to his sneaky moves by the end. Fair enough mate, it was hard to catch on.

Once I had settled into my place in line (though I had to continue defending it every minute or so), I glanced up at the screens. In Australian border security lines this means reading a billion times that if you detect any suspicious behaviour (which, they conveniently show us can easily be identified as any person wearing a black hoody), then report it! However, London Luton is much more accommodating. They provide you with the BBC news. There is nothing like watching the news to make you realise that travelling is like living in a bomb shelter for a month. When you finally come up to the surface you still think that Rupert Murdoch rules the world.

Customs lines can be THIS nuts!

I finally reached the desk thinking, ‘I’ve got it all figured out, I’ve taken my passport out of the passport wallet like they asked, I will be the fastest customer they’ve ever seen’. Well no, think again Imogen. My passport has issues. This is where I really had to be switched on. I get asked the trick question ‘Do you usually have issues with your passport?’ Well sir, if that was the case and I answered correctly I would have just bought myself a one-way ticket into a tiny office to be stared and prodded at for hours, so I’ll go with the innocent ‘No, never’.

All of a sudden, mayhem broke out in the line! The dulcet tones of a small child screaming his lungs out drifted over from the EU queue. Security was all over it, and dragged him and his family out of the line and to the first available desk. I get asked if that puts me off ever having children. To be honest, if they’re as scheming as that kid and get me to the front of the line every time, I want at least 7 (one for each day of the week, so they don’t tire out). This also happens to be my first encounter with Britain’s teen pregnancy epidemic that is shown to me on 16 and Pregnant. The officer suddenly looks embarrassed and says, ‘You don’t have children, do you?’ No, I’m flattered really, but I’m clearly passed my prime child-rearing age.

London Luton Airport.

With a wink, I was dismissed by Mr. Officer to go and collect my bags. I passed through a typically strict European customs ‘nothing to declare’ door (meaning completely empty with not an officer in sight) and I went on my way to the bright lights of London. So, if you’re ever looking for an amusing border security experience, instead of hiding a pantry of dried fruit in your bag ready for the customs hall in Australia, think about giving London Luton a try.

Imogen Dixon-Smith writes for You’re Dripping Egg and is (oooh) editor Matilda Dixon-Smith’s baby sister. For more Dixon-Smith travelling adventures, check out The Heineken Experience and New York City: I Am Weather’s Bitch.