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Safe in the Sky

Added security checks and all kinds of restrictions may be a real annoyance when you are in a hurry to catch a flight, but are necessary to ensure you arrive at your destination in one piece – literally. Capt Lim Khoy Hing discusses why safety measures are mandatory while travelling.

On one of my recent flights, a passenger became very upset when he was not allowed to visit the cockpit even though he claimed it was allowed in his country. However, he was politely told that after the September 11 incident, such practices have been totally banned.

     In fact, airline security is more stringent than it has ever been in the past. To illustrate this point, on a flight operating out of Dubai some time ago, I was subjected to an incredibly thorough security check; more so than many of my passengers.

     I had to go through the screening machine, my laptop checked twice (computer switched on and off), a pat-down, and my jackets and shoes removed for inspection. Imagine that! Many would think that as a captain flying a Boeing 777 to New York, what harm could I inflict?

     However, airport authorities refused to take any chances and were merely doing their job in ensuring all procedures were adhered to before the crew and passengers were let onboard. Where air security is concerned, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Now Screening

In this issue of Travel 3Sixty°, I’d like to explain the rationale behind the inconvenience passengers have to endure in what otherwise would be a pleasant journey. It is true that frequent travellers are incensed by the security screening at major international airports. They complain of having to go through full-body scanning machines or other more intrusive pat-downs. Some disapprove of thorough pat-downs whilst others are totally against the full-body scan machines, as it is considered an invasion of privacy and an outrage of modesty.

     Security authorities state that only a small percentage of air travellers undergo the physical pat-down or the full-body scanning. They claim that the said procedures can effectively detect hidden weapons and explosives. These few additional safety procedures, no matter how inconvenient to the passengers, can save lives and are widely considered a foolproof way to detect potentially dangerous situations.

Advanced Imaging Technology

Full body scanning is achieved by the use of advanced imaging technology. One concern about the imaging technology is whether it has any harmful effects, especially on an unborn child. Passengers, however, need not worry about this process as it is safe for all, including children, pregnant women and even individuals with medical implants.

     In fact, the screening process is safe and meets all health and safety standards. Health authorities have confirmed that the radiation projected on the individuals screened were far below that of normal standard dosage limits. The energy projected is many thousand times lesser than that transmitted by a cell phone.

Shoes & Underwear

Why was I made to take off my shoes for inspection before proceeding to my plane and then to New York? Well, this stringent measure had to be put in place after a passenger by the name of Richard Reid made an attempt to cause damage to a Boeing 767 flying from Paris to Miami on December 21, 2001.

According to security reports, Reid was wearing shoes that had been remodelled to hide plastic explosives in the hollowed out soles. If detonated, the explosives could have easily blown out a gaping hole in the fuselage of the aircraft. In fact, Reid did attempt to detonate the explosive but was foiled in his efforts due to the quick thinking and action of the crew and passengers.

     In another incident as recent as 2009, a passenger onboard flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit was found to have explosives sewn onto his underwear. The explosives failed to detonate properly and the accused was badly burnt in the process. If it had exploded as planned, one can only imagine the number of fatalities, which could have been averted if the screening process was thorough and mandatory.

Locking Up LAGS

Travellers are also often annoyed with the ban on carrying onboard liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGS) exceeding 100 ml. Security officials have discovered devious plots to cause severe damage to aircraft and loss of life by using liquid explosives. This particular plot involves carrying liquid explosives disguised as beverages or other common objects such as toiletries and even baby’s formula in carry-on luggage.

     Binary explosives, or those created by combining two volatile liquids together is a major cause for concern for security officials. They may look fairly harmless but can potentially cause catastrophic damage when mixed together.

     So, if a security personnel tells you to bin the water bottle or the hand cream that exceeds 100 ml, don’t argue and simply follow the rules as he is merely making sure everyone flies safely.


Stringent procedures of screening and, checks on LAGs and its prohibition are admittedly a hassle for travellers. However, I believe that this inconvenience is worth your time and trouble if it offers you peace of mind and enables passengers to reach their destinations safely.

     A word of caution. The security officers at airports have no sense of humour when the safety of people and planes are at stake. Do not even think of cracking jokes about weapons, bombs or terrorist threats in the airport or the plane. This is a serious matter and you can potentially be jailed even for a seemingly harmless joke.

     In September 2011, a woman thought it funny to play a joke by sticking a drawing of a bomb with the word ‘boom’ on her friend’s suitcase. This led to the entire terminal being shut down for nearly two hours, forcing several planes to be re-routed to other airports until the bomb squad and sniffer dogs swept the building for explosives.

     So, if you think of a really funny joke about bombs just as you are about to board an airplane, for your own safety, keep it to yourself until you have landed and are safely outside the airport! And no matter what, do not say “Hi Jack!” to your fellow passenger in the flight – even if that is his name!

A True Story

On one flight, a passenger told a security officer that he knew he was going to set the metal detector off because he had a metal pin in his hip. He hoped the officer would be less strict and let him through without any additional screening. Luckily, the security officer followed the standard guidelines and patted him down. Guess what turned up? A gun strapped to the passenger’s leg!


Captain Lim Khoy Hing is a former AirAsia Airbus A320 and AirAsia X A330/A340 pilot who also used to fly the Boeing 777. He has logged a total of more than 25,500 flying hours and is now a Simulator Flight Instructor with Air Asia X. In his spare time, he shares his opinion on aviation issues with others. For more air travel and aviation stories,check out his website, ‘Just About Flying’ at www.askcaptainlim.com.