Monday, November 26, 2007

Three hours, please.

When you fly domestically, arriving 90 minutes early is a best practice even though an hour is usually enough time. For an international flight from an American airport, two hours is the norm. Should your travel plans include Israel, though, be very clear on this: you should arrive at the airport no less than three hours before your flight.

Israel takes airport security very seriously. Whether that's because the country has been officially at war with a dozen Arab nations for its entire history or because Yasser Arafat basically invented modern terrorism, I couldn't say. The specific impetus is unimportant anyway; what matters is that you, as a traveler expecting to fly out of Ben-Gurion International Airport, will be given a closer look if you arrive, say, two and a half hours before your flight.

Oh, and were you just visiting for the weekend? That's very suspicious unto itself. Who would fly from America to Israel just to spend two days exploring Tel Aviv--even if the Lonely Planet guide says that's enough time to be worthwhile?

Wait... is that a Bahraini stamp in your passport? Now you're really going to get some in-depth scrutiny.

Readers might correctly understand at this point that my weekend trip to Tel Aviv ended with just such a discussion with Israeli airport security. I managed to arouse every possible suspicion that one might have with the exceptions of being an Arab or a Muslim; if one or both had been true, I'm not sure whether I'd have made my flight!

The depth to which I was questioned really did surprise me:
  • When I told the guards the name of my company, they wanted to see business cards.
  • When I said what I did, they asked me to walk them through a typical audit procedure.
  • When I said I'd taken lots of photos, they had me show them on my camera.
  • When I told them about Spontaneous Tourism, they had me power up my laptop, connect to the (free) airport Wi-Fi, and pull up the book on
All tolled, I spent about half an hour talking with the security guys and answering their questions. My bag was also scanned twice, at different points by different people (which had nothing to do with my brief stay; that's part of the standard process).

For all that, I found the experience very pleasant. I was treated with the utmost courtesy at all times. They retrieved my boarding pass for me while I was being questioned, to make sure that I'd get to my flight on time (which I did; they had just started boarding when I walked up). And that silly bag of gels and liquids that TSA finds so terrifying? The Israelis--they who have more cause to worry about terrorism than anyone on the planet--didn't need to see it, because they'd done a thorough job of screening me.

But just the same, spare yourself the trouble. If you'll be flying out of Israel, make sure you get to the airport in advance. Three hours, please.

1 comment:

MG Storyteller said...

Wow! So, you can have realy airport security without throwing yourself on the mercy of federally sanctioned troglodytes? I guess there really is value in travelling to foreign countries. How else could one arrive at such a revelation?