Thursday, December 23, 2004

Haiti airport warning today

Rum balls went over quite well yesterday at work.

News reports today say security at Haiti’s airport is lax. The Department of Homeland Security is telling airlines that fly into Haiti to warn travelers Haiti’s airport does not meet international security standards. One official called the PAP airport a “lawless outpost."

Hmmm. I’m wondering what prompted this. Having just flown back and forth to Haiti, in one day last week, I am analyzing the security now. At MIA, went through xray machines (once) before we hit the gates. I left my Alpha Smart in my backpack, which I usually take out (since it’s like a laptop). I just wanted to see if anyone noticed. No one noticed at MIA. Took my shoes off, as usual. Got through just fine.

Flying from Haiti back to MIA? You go through TWO xray machines. First when you enter the departure area, and have to screen all your bags, including your luggage. Again, left my Alpha Smart in the backpack. No one said anything. Took off my shoes. Then, after immigration, before you head to the (ONE) gate, you go through another xray screening process.

So what DID the Department of Homeland Security find? Or did they find anything at all to prompt this ominous warning? Maybe it isn’t the security passengers go through, but the access to the tarmac?

Having traveled to Haiti for 10 years, I know how much the airport itself has improved. That government official who called it a “lawless outpost” should have traveled there five years ago. Oy! What a zoo! You would disembark and head into this crowded, airless room for immigration, where paint flaked off the walls. The bathroom right after immigration was this ghastly nightmare with a bucket for flushing. Then the fun really started when you tried to get your bags. Porters would be swarming like bees over the sagging, broken luggage belt, grabbing your suitcase off before you could. It was mass chaos. I got used to it.

Last week? Quiet, organized and efficient. The room where you wait to be cleared by immigration is air conditioned, gleaming with new tile and colorful Haitian murals. The bathrooms are spotless and modern. They’ve cleared out all the madmen trying to grab your bags and only official porters are allowed now.

So, what did they find? I’m focused on this sentence, “One knowledgeable source described the problem as lax screening of passengers and bags and generally poor security around the airport perimeter.”

There you go. “around the airport perimeter.” I have a hunch the problem with security isn’t screening passengers. It’s the airport perimeter. A row of shacks ring the perimeter. There's a slum near the airport that the poor simply call "airport" when you ask them where they live. Last week as we were flying out, there was this guy on a tractor mowing the fields adjacent to the runway. I was idly watching him, wondering if he were hired by the government for groundskeeping. Or if he just happened to be there, tooling along on his tractor. I don’t know.

But it makes you wonder.

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