Forced to play charade

Having been “black affrontit” by OTT security at Sumburgh Airport in the past, I normally don’t travel to Shetland by air. However, I was forced by a relative’s recent illness to suspend my boycott.

No problems flying in and Flybe were fine both ways, however, having checked in at Sumburgh for our return flight and just sat down with our cups of coffee, I was called to “security” who required one of our bags to be opened.

Concerned, I politely inquired if they thought our “Globe Butcher’s” vacuum-packed “sassermaet” was a bomb. However, I was pleasantly reassured the search was “purely routine” (“Don’t panic … don’t panic!”) so we got on with it and finally, I returned to my now cold coffee.

When the flight was called we had to pass through security and were advised which items had to come off. My plastic belt was a problem – “it canna come aff, it”s fixed tae me breeks” – so it had to be “trivvilt” to ensure it wasn’t a suicide bomb.

“A plastic belt, you canna be serious?” Oh yes, they were.

The irony of being frisked at Sumburgh by a very pleasant gentleman of Arabian appearance wasn’t lost on me and I stood there, looking at my toes and shaking with surreptitious mirth, as my wife came through.

Naturally, she set off the alarm and had to be scanned all over and it turned out her shoes were responsible and had to be taken away to the “scan man” for clearance.

At last, it was over, well actually, no it wasn’t, for the “de rigeur” strewing of the contents of my wife’s handbag over the counter had still to take place.

Of course, she had committed the cardinal sin of buying a pack of four disposable cigarette lighters which of course, exceeded the maximum safe limit of one per person and the excess had to be confiscated. Rebelliously, she handed one to me which I was entitled to take through.

The confiscated ones then had to be taken to the “scan man” before we were allowed to continue to the departure lounge where my wife saw a man drinking from a bottle and “pluyttit” indignantly: “Whit wye did he manage tae gyit yon trow?”

I ken da Scallowa fokk is braaly ill-plaised (rightly) wi’ da cooncil fir closin da shkuyl dere bit I nivver tink at onyboady is gyaan tae tak an flee a plenn inta da toon hall ower it?

I feel sorry for the pleasant staff forced to play this charade by some latter-day Captain Mainwaring, hell-bent on maintaining his huge lead in the “tightest security in the known universe” competition.

Scotland is the only country in which I have ever been frisked and Shetland is the only place in the world where we are frisked and have our bags searched every time!
So I call on all true Shetland residents and hamefarers to do as I did and whistle The Up-Helly-A’ Song while the surrounding pantomime takes place.

For God’s sake get a life – it’s Sumburgh, not Baghdad Green Zone!

John Tulloch


Add Your Comment
  • Jack Harcus

    • February 15th, 2011 15:15

    Where security is concerned there can be no half measures.Sumburgh could well be the first security link in the chain so far as transiting passengers are concerned as they (the passengers) are not normally subjected to further security checks. Sumburgh security staff should be congratulated for their necessary high standard of security checks.When we can be assured their are no more zealots out there set on killing mases of people then we would be able to enjoy much less rigorous security checks.Take satisfaction from the fact that all persons travelling on your flight are properly secuity cleared.

  • William Sandison

    • February 15th, 2011 17:54

    I’m with John on this one. It’s largely useless “security theatre”. Here’s Bruce Schneier (a world-renowned security expert) on the subject:

    We need more covert, intelligence-led investigation rather than the box-ticking exercises that currently go on.

  • Martin Tregonning

    • February 17th, 2011 1:12

    I have travelled to a number of different places and through many airports, and Sumburgh is no different to most, and a lot better than many.

    I don’t know where John Tulloch has travelled,I have been frisked and my baggage searched in a number of different airports in both the UK and overseas . Try getting through Dulles airport in Washington DC when they pull you up for a random search and you will know what it means to be searched.

    And why does it matter that one of the security staff is of “arabian appearance”? Do you think you should be exempt security checks because you are white and he isn’t.

    On one hand you say you feel sorry for the “pleasant staff”, but you set out to belittle and insult them in your letter.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 17th, 2011 15:28

    Mr Tregonning, I take exception to your inference that I am a racist. I am not.

    As a Shetlander, I found the situation amusing for rather obvious reasons that clearly have escaped you and would have found it equally amusing had the roles been reversed.

    Psychologists tell us that when people make inferences about others values or motivations it tells us more about those who make the inferences than about those to whom they refer.

    I assure you and the Sumburgh staff that I have nothing but admiration for the pleasant, professional, way in which they carry out the duties (fatuously imposed by
    over-zealous control freaks in the Sumburgh security hierarchy) which in fact, was the best I’ve seen outside of Gran Canaria.

    I haven’t been to the United States since the horrendous events there, however, just as Sumburgh isn’t Baghdad Green Zone, it also isn’t Washington dc where you may recall a jumbo jet was flown deliberately into the Pentagon 10 years ago, hence my attempt at humour regarding the Town Hall – oh well, “some fell on stony ground”!

    Do you get your bags opened and yourself body-searched EVERY TIME you go through an
    airport outside Shetland?

    How many UK air passengers have been killed by terrorists since 9/11 and how many people do you think are in the air every day?

    The prospect of being in a crash caused by technical or human failures far exceeds that of terrorism and that is dwarfed by our chances of being killed on our way to the airport.

    The famous writer H L Mencken once said “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    And this, like global warming, is just another of them which will never be lifted as the age of “Big Brotherism” encroaches on us, apace.

    How about halving the cost of airport security and giving the half saved to buy eg cancer
    treatments for people denied them due to cost. Which cause do you think would save the most lives, that or invasive security at airports?

    Best regards,

    John tulloch

  • Ron McMillan

    • February 18th, 2011 7:35

    I have flown through Sumburgh on numerous occasions in the last few years, and have never felt in the least inconvenienced.

    But if I was working on security there and someone arrived bristling with an obvious desperation for something to get angry about, I might be inclined to interpret the laws down to every last exasperating letter just to help him achieve what he so clearly desires – something to get the hump over.

  • Ron Stronach

    • February 18th, 2011 14:20

    Although Sumburgh is probably a low key place for bombers, I really do think that security checks are there for the good of us all.
    I dont mind how many security checks we have to go for as long as we are all safe.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 18th, 2011 16:58

    Mr McMillan,

    You are another one drawing inferences about people you have never met.

    In fact I was in pretty good humour all the way through, the people were too nice to get angry, unlike, it must be said, many other airports I have been to.

    It’s not the staff carrying it out I object to, it’s the principle, and the fact it seems far more zealous at Sumburgh than at other airports, even including Glasgow following the attack there by people who – correct me if I’m wrong – I don’t think intended to board a plane.

    Are you in favour of ID cards, “Stop and Search” and “90-day detention” as well?

    Where would you draw a line and say “no more”? CCTV in our gardens? In our houses?

    Our freedom is being eroded progressively more invasively with every year that passes using the “Salami” technique – one little slice at a time never seems enough to actually take to the barricades over, does it?

    I haven’t been aware of being picked on, however, I’ll remember your advice in future; to be respectful, to smile and tug my forelock when confronted by authority figures (whose wages ultimately depend on people like us paying up) in case they use their power to punish any hint of non obeisance?

    Mmm, wait a moment! Isn’t that the type of thing people were so angry about in Egypt?

    Oh well, it’s back to the boat for me, I suppose, at least, until the next emergency trip?

    “From grand old Viking centuries…….”

    Best regards,

    John Tulloch

  • Ralph Watson

    • February 19th, 2011 15:25

    As regards John Tulloch’s comments aboot the level of security at Sumburgh I have to agree for an outpost at the edge of the realm I used to react in the same way when I travelled through Sumburgh when working offshore on a fortnightly basis from 1986 to 1996, long before 9/11 and the terrorism scares of recent years was even heard of, we were sometimes subject to body cavity searches also, the dreaded “rubber glove” treatment and everyone thought it was WAY OTT way back then,only thing missing was the swastikas.

    Ralph Watson, born at Ringesta Quendale almost 63 years ago now of Aberdeenshire.

  • murry cooper

    • February 19th, 2011 17:31

    john you should be thanking the security staff,not only from sumburgh but in every airport in the u.k. We shouldnot be abusing these brave men and women rather we should admire them for doing a very dangerus job,thay would in the even tof any threat be in the frount line. We have terrorism because of raceisimso lets stamp it out and try to build better relations so that all you went through wont in the future wont be nessisery.M. Cooper

  • john thompson

    • February 20th, 2011 14:31

    Being of shetland extraction i read the shetland times and was apauld to see such a racist remark in your paper all because poor john tulloch was serched. John tulloch should be thanking the security staff not only from sumburgh but from every airport in the uk. We should not be abusing the brave security officers but we should admire them for keeping us safe and for doing a very dangerus job these men and women in the event of a terrorist threat would be in the front line. We have terrorism because of racism so lets try to stamp it out so that all you went through MR. Tulloch would not be nessisery john thompson

  • paul barlow

    • February 22nd, 2011 9:11

    your lucky your joke about exploding meat product were not taken as seriously as it could have been.

    there are loads of signs saying what you can take on the flight so whos fault were the lighters.

    i feel sorry for the security theyare only doing there job to try and keep you safe maybe just grin and get on with it.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 22nd, 2011 19:16

    Never mind grinning, the hardest part was not to fall about laughing!

  • John Britton

    • February 25th, 2011 13:37

    I wonder whether the honourable John Tulloch would complain as such if the security was deemed insufficient? However I guess the moral of the story is that if you do not like security checks are are up to no good to or from Shetland then you shoudl take the boat!

  • John Tulloch

    • February 28th, 2011 14:13

    Mr Britton,

    You obviously didn’t read my letter or were unable to understand the first paragraph.

    Incidentally, I’m not entitiled to be styled “the honourable” and indeed, I abhor our system which puts one “class” of person above or below another, especially, on a hereditary basis.

    In case you still don’t understand the first paragraph, I confirm I shall be using alternative transport whenever possible until the Sumburgh farce becomes less absurd.

    Best regards,

    John Tulloch


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