From Norrie Williamson
To Pack or Not to Pack – That is the Question (with apologies to Shakespeare)
World events continue to cause heightened security in airports, and the increase in flights and passengers has resulted in more security measures and more security staff.
While we all acknowledge the reason and benefit of airport security, it does present some potential difficulties for coursemeasurers in terms of travelling with Jones counters.
It may be the general raise in concern in theMiddle East, but for the first time in over 8 years of travelling to the region with measurement material I had two jones counters confiscated at airport security.
Certainly it has been a frequent occurrence to be stopped and questioned about the jones counters, but previously an explanation of their use was sufficient to gain approval and be on my way.
In Dubai at end of June the position was totally different.
There was real concern raised, (on the part of the security guard) that the devices, and the new open gear one in particular, could be used as a weapon. The gentleman continually said it was too sharp,indicating the rim on my older jones counter and the gears on the new one.
Requests to be able to go back and check in luggage were refused, on the basis that I had passed immigration and there were no facilities to leave the counters or to have them taken on board as one would do with a fire arm etc.
In short it was about US$300 thrown into the trash; banished and gone forever.
That of course was the start of the challenges. Arriving in a country where there are no other counters could have negated the usefulness of my flight costs etc.
Immediately after leaving the scene of the ‘crime’ I was on my laptop at the airport gate requesting assistance from Pete Riegel Tom Riegel and Hugh Jones with a view to couriering a new counter from USA or UK.
Thankfully all were swift to respond with TomRiegel in America the most obvious source.
A series of to-and froing of mails ensued, however despite his best effort the best option available was around US$230courier fee and a 7-day arrival just in time for me to depart. That meant either extending my stay or not doing any work during the trip - neither were acceptable options. Another consideration in international couriers is that the package also has to clear customs, often with a high import tax, and a wedge of official paperwork. There are often restricted custom clearance times, which can cause further delays.
As I boarded the plane I remembered that I had previously arranged for my Lebanese friend, Wissam Terro, to get a counter. A short call prior to take off secured an option to borrow this and agreementthat we would discuss the detail when I landed in Jordan.
This was not without its challenges due to fighting on the Syria / Lebanese border, but we managed to transport it through to Jordan and back.
(Sport suddenly becomes that more political and more akin to James Bond style adventures with the consideration of getting a taxi driver to run the gauntlet of fighting to deliver a …. Jones counter)
Had I been in a country where other have jones counters the problem could easily be solved, or in a country that has regular overnight shipping with the USA again no problem. But I wasn't, and many of my measurements are in (road running) development countries in Africa and Middle East, where few people can be expected to understand the requirements of measurement.
Remember it is not only a counter. I have had a steel tape taken away from me, but on that occasion they put in an envelope and it was taken on board in a 'fire-arm' security procedure.
Below are some thoughts and considerations that I will be making when travelling with Jones counters in future:
• To most people these are strange devices and therefore the 'unknown' is seen as a threat to some security officers, particularly when dealing in a second or third language.
• In truth the counters could be 'sharpened' as weapons, but that surely would be obvious at the time of inspection.
• The security concerns are not going to go away. The likelihood is they will getmore restricted not relaxed.
• From the outset consider:
? Which country you are travelling from and to.What is perceived dangers / risks in each?
? What languages will you be conversing in?
? Is it worthwhile having a letter and photo from race organizer or national federation explain your visit and purpose of tools / equipment you are bringing in? (we used this to get the counter from Lebanon to Jordan and back. With the explanation in Arabic life was easier)
? Is there a running / marathon culture. This increases the likelihood that your explanation will be understood.
? Is this your final destination or a stop-over. If Final then you can perhaps get assistance easier.
? What are plan B, C options if you arrive without Jones counters?
• The measurer has two options: carry the counters in hand luggage or put on the checked-in luggage
• Hand Luggage:
§ Does not get lost,
§ Ready for use as soon as off the plane
§ Any concern is able to be explained face to face
§ Will almost certainly be selected for search of case unless you present the counter with mobile phone / lap top etc
§ If the officer does not understand the use / explanation then their tendency is to be safe rather than sorry and opt to confiscate.
§ Large busy airports are not generally interested in individual cases / explanations.
§ Calling for higher ranked officer can have both positive and negative outcomes depending on whether the officer feels undermined or not.
§ Often, but not always, you are allowed to go back to check in another bag. However this can reduce time for catching flight to critical levels.
§ If confiscated what back up options do you have in place? Are you able to borrow from others in the country or close by?
• In the hold (checked Baggage):
§ Generally this baggage will not be subjected to the same security concerns and the counters will be accepted.
§ Some countries scan before the check in or at check-in then there is a risk of the counters being questioned, but the level of concern and risk of confiscation is minimal.
§ Use of the counter can only happen once you are able to unpack from the bags
§ The bags may be delayed / lost / redirected. The delays on this can often exceed the period of time a measurer has allocated to work at the race.
§ Items may be stolen from the bags (although it is unlikely that anyone would take the counters and security in baggage centres has improved.)
• Currently I have a photo of the jones counters and an Arabic explanation of its use with the stamp of the race organization. But how much weight that stamp and signature carry remains untested and would depend on the airport etc.
Perhaps something similar could be provided by IAAF / AIMS / National Federation with an appropriate signature and stamp and counter signed by an internationallyaccepted / respected airport authority. Perhaps UK or USA authorities? Thisdocument could then be laminated and carried with the measurer. Laminating the photo with a photo of the measurer could also perhaps assist. These would only have to be produced once foreach measurer and the photo could show both old and new counter types for those measurers who have both.
• Perhaps carrying a copy of the course measurement manual would also assist in assuring people of the innocence of the device.
The ‘mystique’ and ‘threat’ to security of jones counters are unlikely to go away so our options as measurers are either to accept a percentage of loss and inconvenience, or to take some steps to minimize the risks of ending up at a race venue without the equipment to do the intended work.
There can be no question that the risks differ country to country and the reality is that even within oneairport there I no consistency of approach – it's often down to the luck of the draw with the officer on the day.