I was going to call this one "Security Inaction" as a homage to Jon Stewart, but I didn't want to cause an international incident :)
Anyway, for those that don't know, on Saturday a Landrover packed with gasoline canisters ploughed into the front entrance of the Glasgow International Airport. What you don't know is that I was touching down at the airport at that exact moment. Here is a short account of my experiences based on several pages of notes that I took while going through this ordeal. (Now when people at Akademy ask me what happened, I'll just point them to the planet! wheee!)
So I was flying to Glasgow via Minneapolis and Amsterdam. My flight was delayed leaving Minneapolis since they were having a problem with one of the doors. Long boring layover. Once we were underway, I arrived in Amsterdam with exactly 20 minutes to make my flight to Glasgow. I made my connection, but was informed that my luggage would not. Mixed blessing perhaps, you'll see why later...
So I was on flight KLM 1477 to Glasgow which was scheduled to land at 3:35 PM in Glasgow. The weather was gross and raining, but the flight was smooth. When we touched down, the pilot announced that there may be a delay in disembarking as the emergency crews were just dispatched to a fire in the terminal. We could see the smoke rising on the other side of the terminal as we taxied to the gate.
Initially the airport crews were still operating mostly normally and they were extending the canopy to the plane. The pilot then came on the radio and said that they would retract the canopy and we'd have to stay on the plane until emergency crews had the situation under control.
After a few minutes the cabin crew comes by to offer what remained of the snacks and drinks that were allotted for our particular flight. This consisted of Oreo Cookies, some cans of Coke, and those little plastic cups. Most of us at this point still have no clue what's going on.
The pilot announces that a vehicle has driven into the front of the terminal and is on fire - they even knew it was a landrover. Out come the cells phones as people start phoning friends and family to find out the news. Nothing is on CNN at this point, but some of the local stations have been aware of it and news has been relayed to us via passenger cell phone. Then it hits CNN.
I figure Sonya might be panicking at home is she was reading Google News or similar, so I borrow the cell phone of the very friendly dutch guy sitting beside me and give her a call at home forgetting about the time zone difference. I wake her up. She seems concerned, but groggy and was satisfied in my assurances that I was okay.
Up until this point I'm thinking that I can still make it to the latter parts of the KDE talks going on that evening.
Reports continued to file in to us using the mainstream media via cell phones and Blackberries and similar electronic devices. The first reports we got incorrectly said that there were four dead - only the occupants of the car. This was complimented by conflicting (but true) reports of people making citizen's arrests. Additionally, we were told that it took the police 10 minutes to respond to the event and that the attackers were already in custody of citizens and security.
Then we started getting (incorrect) reports that Glasgow Central station had been hit, and that there were car accidents occurring involving dozens of vehicles, and that most of the other airports in Britain had been shut down. None of these reports were correct, although cars were not being allowed to pull up to the front of some airports.
At this point we run out of the plastic drinking cups and are told to keep them since they have no more. Water is still available and they break out their supply of snacks that they were allotted for the return trip to Amsterdam. The snacks didn't last very long, and Oreo cookies rapidly become distasteful.
Political discussions about the situation are starting to break out on the plane, but everyone is very civil. In all honesty, very few people were blaming the terrorists for being stuck on the plane -- they were blaming the police for not letting them off the plane.
We looked out one window and could see the small international terminal packed with people like sardines. These were the people that were scattered throughout the entire airport terminal at the time of the event - they were not allowed to leave the building (despite the fire) and were instead corralled into the small international terminal. They would stay there for longer than even us on the planes.
The smokers in our group are starting to get argumentative with the crew - they want to be able to open the door and have a cigarette but there is safety concerns about fuel so they are not allowed. We miss supper, and the snacks are gone. We break into the duty free bags and drink all of the beer. Nothing to declare at customs now :)
The crew informs us that there has been a plan put in place to get us off of the plane by using a set of mobile stairs. Busses are brought to the airport to remove people from the facility, but we sit on the plane for a few more hours before anyone gets on a bus. We are informed that we will have all of our luggage in the hold confiscated temporarily - a mixed blessing for me since my luggage was still in Amsterdam. It was originally supposed to arrive in Glasgow on the 9PM flight that night, but it was well after 9PM and we were still sitting at the terminal.
The batteries on peoples' cell phones start to die. The laptops have died long ago already. Some people discover they have books to read, and get to work, but people are becoming very restless. The inefficiency of the airport staff is becoming even more evident as we learn that there are 12 planes full of people all going through roughly the same ordeal, plus a lot of people in the terminal.
At about 9PM a few single pieces of luggage were removed from individual planes. We have no idea why, or who the luggage belonged to.
The stairs are connected to the plane, but a guard is set up and we are not allowed to exit the open door.
At 9:20 it is announced that we will be taking a bus to the Scottish Exhibition and Community Centre (SECC), but it remains unconfirmed for a while. Immigration comes on board to check passports and landing forms. They do not stamp the passports, and they fly through the questions at a very rapid pace. I am given verbal leave to enter the country for non-commercial purposes for up to six months. My passport has no evidence of this agreement (which hopefully causes no problems on my return).
They promised to provide us food and drink on the bus when it arrived after 10PM. We moved to the bus, but then it sat on the runway for an hour as inspectors from the police came on board and questioned every single individual. This took a long time, and the Scots that were present started to harass the police for basically keeping us all imprisoned for the whole evening. I'm a little upset because I missed the latter part of the KDE activities and do not yet know where I was going to be sleeping that night once they finally released me. An official political-style statement was officially read to the passengers of the bus by the inspectors. One of them was kind enough to answer a few questions of mine for the purposes of this article. Here's what he said (in point form):
- The attack was at the front of the main Glasgow Terminal building
- One civilian was injured (leg) when tackling the suspects to make the arrests
- One suspect was in critical condition, two more in custody.
- One was discovered to have a device on him when at the hospital at Paisly (am I spelling this right?) so the whole hospital had to be evacuated.
- 2300 people were being held and processed at the airport, all of which would be taken to the SECC to be permitted to leave.
I was still sitting at the airport until the bus started moving to the SECC at 11:15. I needed to find a place to stay and so I was directed to a hostel at 56 Berkley Street. I shared a cab with another KDE guy who was going that general direction and was deposited at the hostel. It was full. There was one across the street. It was full too but it had a net connection. I talked to the guy manning the front desk and he said he'd let me use the connection. He also offered to let me buy his own bed for the night since he would be up at the desk all evening. I pay £12 plus a £5 key deposit.
I send a quick email to Sonya, and post my previous but very brief blog article just to let people know I'm okay. I head to bed at about 1PM.
At 4AM, someone elses alarm goes off (I had set my Nintendo DS to wake me at 7AM) and I'm now wide awake. The hostel I checked into was a bit of a dive. I went downstairs and checked out, returning my keys. The internet computers were offline so I grabbed a map and decided to start walking to the conference location about 30 minutes walk away. I grab a lousy burger and some very good fries (called crisps here) from a 24 hour joint that is operating opposite of some of the bigger bars (which have drunks spilling out into the streets). I eat and walk slowly.
It's only 5AM and the conference building is locked when I arrive. Okay, I need to kill some time. I start wandering the streets of downtown Glasgow admiring the architecture and the fact that they use granite to pave their pedestrian streets (very nice, I must admit). The only places open that I can find at that time of day were newspaper shops - no place to sit and kill three hours. Eventually I end up at a McDonalds at 6AM on a Sunday morning, just as it's opening. I buy some orange juice (not the crappy syrup stuff - good OJ) and a cup of tea.
They have a plasma screen up on the wall showing BBC news (but no audio) of the landrover on fire the previous night. They must have had a lot of gasoline in that vehicle. I start talking to a number of NEDs who were still up from the bar on the previous night. (NED: Non-Educated Delinquent - basically most of Glasgow's nightlife.) I am surprised by how racist these people are, saying things like "If it was up to me, I'd just shoot all of those fucking towel heads." This sort of statement would rarely be uttered in Canada, and if they do, they're liable to get arrested for it. This is my first real experience with what I consider to be the Real Scotland (TM) and I'm not impressed by these people.
At 9 I show up at the conference, and people are excited to see me. I recognise nobody, but they recognise me and were on the lookout for my arrival since they found out about my situation. The conference itself has gone swimmingly so far (except that I haven't bothered to track down my luggage yet...).
The political section
Just one comment about the "security inaction" that I mentioned previously. When I went through security, they would have seized anything sharp in my possession that could be used as a weapon, ranging from a stylus for a palm-pilot if it was metal, to nail-clippers. Yet when I went to the airport in Minneapolis, and went to the bathroom there - they had a sharps disposal box filled to the brim with needles used for insulin and similar. This is past the security checkpoint, and not difficult to remove from the sharps disposal. What kind of idiot "lets make the people feel safe by having checkpoints" sort of system is this? I mean, leave your sharps at home, pick them up in the airport once you're through security... It's ridiculous.
In Scotland we were treated like prisoners, while at the same time letting people through customs without even stamping the passport. In Minneapolis, they have an obvious problem with their screening process. This security is not working - it's reactionary and not effective. I heard people on the plane suggesting that they will probably not allow vehicles to approach the airport anymore, forcing people to take shuttle buses somesuch. That just makes the bus the target and doesn't solve a single thing.
We used to make jokes about people needing travelling papers to travel within the Soviet Union, and pointed out how freely we could travel in the rest of the world with pride. I guess somehow we forgot about freedom in our quest for perfect safety. It will never work... we increase security somewhere and they will just change targets until we live in a true police state. We should be dealing with these people with diplomacy, not with the sword. We can never defeat terrorists with a sword.
Additionally, I'd like to point out that I am upset about the way I was greeted by the Scottish police and security forces. I mean, I know they were working long hours to try to get us all landed, and the one inspector did provide a moment to answer some questions for me, but they were (at least initially) more concerned about protocol and procedure than actually helping us get off the plane, or even get some food. Second to this, I would like to point out the the crew on board KLM 1477 were amazing and did absolutely everything that they could do (within their power) to make it less frustrating than it could be, after all they had to sit on the plane for 7 hours themselves.
Anyway - now this story is very long, and I'll be flooding the planet with it. But on the upside, people can now stop asking me about my experiences and I can get some more KDE work done.
Cheers folks. The next post will be about KDE itself, just you wait :)