European airport security much tougher

Flying for the first time after Sept. 11 was bound to be a little different, but going home to Europe to visit family and friends made it worth it. So, this summer my wife and I took a flight to Düsseldorf, Germany, curious about what would have changed.

The luggage checks at Fort Myers International Airport had been improved since a year ago, but still paled in comparison to checks in Europe even before Sept. 11.

In Fort Myers the security officers were more concerned with the time the checks took. Almost all passengers passed the metal detector without a problem and were not body searched. The hand luggage was not inspected unless something looked odd about it. The thoroughness with which this was done was disconcerting though. An officer pointed at my bag and asked what was in it. I said it was a hard drive for my laptop. She shrugged and waved me on.

Our laptops were wiped with a swab and the swab analyzed to test for explosives. Like other passengers who had laptops with them we had to take off our shoes and had them swiped too. No passenger without a laptop had to take their shoes off. The logic seems to be that only people with laptops have exploding shoes.

On our way back three weeks later, the German officers did basically the same things but in more controlled and organized ways. While in the United States we were asked half-heartedly, “You didn’t put anything dangerous in those bags, did you?” The German check-in people asked us detailed questions and opened all our bags, including checked luggage as well as carry-ons. This was done thoroughly but in a friendly and speedy manner.

To get to the gate, the bags were screened again and a body search of every person was done. The carry-on luggage was put through the screening machine after the passenger had passed the metal detector and could answer questions about the contents. This made things less hectic because officers did not need to yell across people for questions.

To get into the gate itself, the passports were checked again and matched to the boarding passes. There was a problem with my wife’s boarding pass. It said “S” for her given name instead of “M.” After explaining that the travel agency had probably thought her given name was Shelli and not Michelle, the officer cleared it with the check-in counter and made sure the change was made. It was apparent that he did not only glance at the papers, but actually paid attention. Nobody had caught this when we went though the same steps in the United States. After this we had to have the passports checked yet again, and we walked through another security check. Every passenger was body searched, all bags were screened and every passenger had to take off their shoes. It did not matter what kind of shoes they were. Even sandals had to be taken off and screened.

The security checks at Fort Myers showed promise, but paled in comparison to the European checks. The checks in the United States clearly have to be upgraded and also rethought. It took us only about half an hour to go through the checks in Germany. This is not too much to ask of a passenger who is supposed to arrive two hours before an international flight, anyway.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoringin environmental science.