Extra security conscious

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

BY THE time this column goes out, we had been out of the country for a few days so that once in a while this column will be a sort of a travelogue. It will be not the kind for tourism since I am here in the US not to enjoy but to continue research necessary for the Negros War and Peace Museum that we are building at the top of a hill in the war zone of World War II. The museum to be constructed in Patag, Silay City, is on track.

There are several changes in the security procedures for entry to the United States. While the security check at the Bacolod-Silay airport is the usual, the processing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila has adopted more checking stops.

We took a direct flight from Bacolod to New York via Philippine Airlines with the thought that our checked in luggage in the Silay Airport will be retrieved only in the John F. Kennedy Airport. This had been my experience in past travels where I took PAL.

This time, however, while our luggage was checked in through, they had to be reclaimed again in Manila. We had to bring the luggage to the PSA right at the baggage area. Although the baggage had already passed through two ex-ray machines in Silay, the PSA (whatever that means) required the opening of the baggage. Then they passed over their contents before sealing them. They took over control and for us to just retrieve them in JFK International.

We got into the NAIA Terminal 1 through an ex-ray machine and then another ex-ray machine at the immigration. The personnel there are stricter – checking everything and taking out bottles of water, or anything liquid.

In the past those security checks would have sufficed and we proceeded to wait for our aircraft at the designated gates. This time, we were required to undergo another security check, more rigid than the previous two. We had to remove our shoes, belts, wallets, coins, keys, water that people bought from the coffee and food shops and even perfumes from the gift stores. That discourages people from patronizing the many high end shops.

After the strict inspections, we had to present our gate passes and passports once again in another desk for the personnel to check our names in the passengers list. And then we were allowed to get in.

Once we were inside the enclosed pre-departure gate area and intend to visit the rest room or get a cup of dispensed water outside the cordon, we are no longer free to get out and come back as we used to. This time we must ask permission and then go through the same process as if we had not been checked before.

Even the free water dispenser must have been seen as a security risk because instead of plastic or Styrofoam cups, they are using a folded bond paper made like a cup that we played around when we were kids. Or maybe they are just cutting on expenses.

At the JFK International where we arrived at almost midnight after a direct flight from Manila for 15 hours, we were delayed because the airport was congested. We had to wait for about 20 minutes for our plane to get a gate.

The processing of passengers has changed a lot. The last time we went to the US was in late 2012 so we were strangers to these new ways. The immigration and customs declaration forms that we used to fill up just before landing were no more.

Everything is digital. Passengers enter their passport on the page with the US visa through a slot and fingerprints and photos are automatically taken. These seem to be for immigration – no more immigration officers browsing over the passports and asking questions. The process was fast.

Then the same machine asks a series of questions that are related to customs, like the amount of dollars the passengers was carrying, whether the passenger carried fruits, seeds, etc., the same questions asked by the customs officers but no customs personnel. The passenger answers the questions by just touching “yes” or “no” on screen. If the machine was satisfied, it tells the passenger to wait for a receipt, then he could get his luggage and exit.