When ‘We can’t check you in because government regulations require that you check in at the airport’ displayed on my computer screen as I tried to check in to my LHR-ATL flight in August, I thought I had hit the wrong key. So, I tried again.
And again. And again. And again.
After nearly six attempts to check in to the flight (Delta 31 to Atlanta) I have been on tons of times, I gave up. Next, I did what any logical person at a computer would do… I googled it.
After reading a few forums and random websites, it appeared I had been part of some random security ‘check’ done on Americans.
Not placing tons of faith in people who have the ability to post whatever on the internet (myself included 😉) I decided to go straight to the source.
Finding a phone number for Delta’s Customer Service in the UK took longer than I expected.
SSSS Boarding Pass: Delta Airlines’ Response
The Delta representative, whose English I barely understood, indicated that I should anticipate nothing additional at the airport. I clarified this with my OCD level of interrogation several times and then let it go. I slept normally that night and did not let pre-travel anxiety get the best of me.
Well, not really. I still planned to be at Heathrow Airport 30 minutes prior to when I normally arrive for this flight. And just for reference, I have flown Delta round trip from LHR to America minimally 3 times a year for the past 7 years.
Aside from waiting to check-in for 45 minutes in the long queue, my check-in went normally. And, I did inquire again if anything additional would happen.
As a side note, before Delta merged its desks with Virgin Atlantic a few years ago, I never had to wait longer than 10 minutes to check my luggage in the terminal at Heathrow Airport.
All went as normal through the security line. However, I only had 15 minutes until my gate number was displayed. When it did, I darted off quickly to Gate 20.
SSSS Boarding Pass: What Really Happens
Upon entering, my boarding pass was seized and I was escorted to a small table on the side of the boarding area waiting room. The ‘agent’ said he needed to test every electronic item I had.
AYFKM?!?!? I probably said that out loud. Twice. Really loud. In fact, that is why it has taken so long to publish this blog post. I was irate and didn’t respond in the most favourable way when I realised this was definitely happening to ME.
‘I am a travel blogger. I have 3 cameras, 3 external hard drives, a laptop, iPad, multiple phones and more,’ I said with a total edge.
He not only cared less, but also the clipboard lady next to him wouldn’t even make room for me to open my carefully packed carry on.
And one by one I had to remove everything from my carry on luggage, and anyone who wanted to could watch. Undergarments, make up, charge cords, and one electronic device after another, the pile mounted.
I was running out of room and no one cared. My stuff started falling to the floor, but they insisted I keep going.
And with little notice, after what seemed like an eternity, they said I could stop and called the next person over to the desk.
WTF? I don’t even get time to repack. I am actually not sure if that thought was expressed aloud because I was upset. Really upset.
SSSS Boarding Pass: Advice for You
This is a completely unsponsored blog post. I am genuinely writing it because I have a high population of American readers and YouTube viewers who travel to and from London either to visit London or live here as American expats like me. And they (probably YOU) are a target for this additional random security screening.
– Arriving early for me did not make a difference. The best you can do is make sure you go to the gate immediately when it shows on the screens at Heathrow Airport.
– Pack your electronics in compartments on the top. The next time I flew I took everything in a camera backpack as my handbag. Mr Sunny was responsible for the carry on suitcase. I wasn’t flagged again, but this was a flight was London Gatwick to Nice, France on British Airways so it isn’t a fair comparison because it didn’t go through American airspace.
Nothing was unusual on my return flight from Atlanta to Heathrow in terms of being subjected to an additional security check.
However I also have started travelling with packing cubes and they have made a huge difference on how fast I can pack and unpack when Mr Sunny and I arrive to a destination.
– Be absent minded. I think I offered way too much. It seemed they were just casually going through my stuff because they had too. I think if I hadn’t mentioned all the devices I had, they probably would have barely checked anything.
SSSS Boarding Pass: Final Thoughts
I tweeted both Heathrow Airport and Delta Airlines and neither indicated it was triggered or handled on their end. After further research, I learned why they really had nothing to do with it.
In the YouTube video below I share what I have learned since the experience about how the US TSA chooses people. I also give advice about what not to put in your carry on luggage that might be a surprise to you.
Have you ever had a security dilemma at the airport? What happened and can you offer any advice to others to help them if they are in a similar situation?