How to do airport security right

Every time I fly through Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, I'm amazed and impressed by the attention to detail paid by the security inspectors--particularly by the agents who interview each and every US-bound passenger for at least 2-3 minutes before allowing them into the gate area. I'm not talking about the typical rote of “Who packed your bags this morning? Have they been in your possession the entire time?” we get in the States... this is a true, deep, verbal probing, and I'd imagine it would take a very layered backstory to fake your way through. Heck, the last time I flew, I wondered if they'd even let me board the plane--the conversation went like this:

Security Guy: “What was the nature of your stay here in the Netherlands?”

Me: “I was attending a conference.”

SG: “What kind of conference?”

Me: “A Microsoft conference.”

SG: “Do you work for Microsoft?”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

SG: “What do you do for Microsoft?”

Me: “I manage a program for our certified trainers.”

SG: “How many trainers?”

Me: “About 10,000.”

SG: “About? You're not sure?”

Me: “The exact number changes frequently.”

SG: “You manage these people, and you don't know how many there are?”

Me: “I don't manage the people, I manage the program... it's kind of hard to explain.”

SG: “How many trainers were at this conference?”

Me: “I don't know... about 200, maybe.”

SG: “You don't know?”

Me: “No, we don't have exact numbers.”

SG: “Why did Microsoft choose to hold this conference here and not in the US?”

....and it was exactly here where things went south. I could have said “Because we hold regional events around the world in order to reach more customers” or something like that. But I was tired, and the first thing that came to mind was “How should I know? I don't plan these events.”

This was bad, because it sent a signal that I hadn't prepared for this line of questioning. So naturally, the security guy drilled deep:

SG: “Do you have an agenda from this conference?”

Me: “No... I threw it out before I left the hotel.”

SG: “Do you have a badge or a book from this conference?”

Me: “No... I don't save anything from these things.”

SG: “Do you have anything at all to prove that you attend this conference?”

Me: “Um... I have some business cards from other attendees?”

SG: “May I see them?” (I show them.) “Do you have any identification to prove you work for Microsoft?”

Me: “Yes! I have my ID badge.”

....mistake #2. The photo on my company ID badge is scratched beyond all recognition from taking it in and out of my smart card reader and badge holder. It's just one big smudge with my name on it. At this point, the Security Guy calls over his Security Supervisor and the two of them consult while I wait.

To make a long story short--the two of them continued to interrogate me for another minute or two, requiring me to identify all battery-powered devices in my possession, with particular focus on comptuer equipment. I had to tell them the dates I received all of the equipment from my employer, and any service I had done on the equipment.

They finally did allow me to board--the conversation probably only took about 5-6 minutes in total, but it felt a lot longer. In a twisted way, I actually enjoyed the tete-a-tete. The amazing thing is each time I fly through Schiphol, the interview is different--the agents are very well-trained and dedicated to their jobs. My hat's off to them--I feel very safe each time I board a plane in Amsterdam.

(Postscript: I may not be the first one to share this story: after I cleared security, I noticed a guy with a laptop typing away furiously, looking up from time to time to take in the events around him. His T-shirt read: “I'm blogging this.”)


Comments (6)

  1. sebmol says:

    How about: it’s none of your business what I did while in the Netherlands? Are you really that eager to trade in your personality rights for a shady perception of security? The reality is that people who want to hijack airplanes will always find a way to do it. You can always make it more difficult but with the right resources, it will always be possible. And judging from the recent past, those interested in these kind of things seem to have rather plenty of resources.

  2. Rick Casey says:

    I’ve been through there a few times, most recently in April for a vacation.

    There are two guys who talk to you in my experience, the first one who directs the queue, and then the actual interviewer.

    Mine was a mess, he asked me and my girlfriend how we knew each other and we just blankly stared at each other…

    I had to think, um, how intimately do I need to explain this 🙂

    In the 10 seconds I stared at Courtney, we finally said, we work together and we date.

    So then he just asked, well, how long have you been dating. We both immediately say 6 and 9 months.

    I was taking off my belt to prepare for strip search but I was ushered along to the interviewer before too much suspicion was raised.

    It was just that much more fun when I told the interviewer I was coming from Romania.

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