Invasion of the body scanners

I’m currently sitting in Sydney international airport having passed through security – I must say that I highly recommend travelling on Christmas day, the airport is deserted compared to it’s normal volume of travellers.

There’s been a few changes since I was last in Sydney airport about 3 months ago, firstly Air New Zealand now has electronic self check-in terminals for international travel.

Unlike the NZ ones, they appear to be for travel to any destination, not just for NZ-AU flights. I’ve been using these terminals for quite some time for all my NZ flights and they’re a huge time saving compared to the conventional check in processes, so it’s great to see these being rolled out here in AU.

Secondly, the AU government has recently deployed airport security scanners to all major international airports (including Sydney) – they’re a little different to the much hated US models in that they only show an icon representation of any detected items, rather than the “naked body scans” that other models show and use a different frequency for scanning.

AusBT has a good write up on them and the policies surrounding their use. Whilst I’m not a fan of the security theatre that is imposed on air travel, these scanners are one of the less annoying systems imposed by the government in recent years.

Previous trips through AU airports often result in being selected for a pat down, or at least a drug/explosive test (clearly young euro males travelling alone must fit some sort of profiling), but the new body scanners are a lot less intrusive than having some dude run his hand up your leg.

Essentially you stand in a shower-sized compartment with your hands above your head for 3-seconds and then you’re done. On the day I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans with no belt or any other objects in my pockets and it passed me without alert – not sure what will happen if you have a passport or a chunky non-metallic belt, or how somewhat “larger” travellers may fare.

In regards to the downsides, I can’t comment on whether or not there is any medical impact, from my POV the biggest issue with them is that they cause you to be moved away from the conveyor where your phones, wallets, laptops are sitting, which offers some interesting opportunities for theft – although you’d have to be a ballsy thief to lift something from an airport security checkpoint.

It also means you can’t leave your passport in your pocket, which is something I really dislike, considering the vital importance of this document in order to not end up in limbo between two countries.

I’m cautiously optimistic about these machines, it does look like AU is maintaining an OK balance between security and stupidity at this stage.

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