I spent the week in England, my last night at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport Hilton Hotel before heading back home. I arose at 6 AM, showered, dressed, packed, and walked over to the main terminal. After picking up my boarding pass I walked across the far side of the check-in area while trying to follow signs that pointed the way to my gate. The arrows seemed to point back the other way from which I had just come, so I ventured straight onward in the direction of where I knew the passport and security checks would be. An open iron gate marked “Do Not Enter” confronted me. I looked at the guard stationed there; he nodded and so I proceeded past the warning to find myself directly in front of the immigration officials’ kiosks. I moved forward in line, presented my passport, and was waived on after acquiring yet another stamp in my already bulging travel document.
Through a turnstile and there I stood, slightly bewildered at heightened levels of light and noise from the stream of travelers that flowed by at the bottom of a few steps. Where was the security check? The laptop-out, liquids-in-a-small-bag, belt-buckle-on-the-conveyor ballet was nowhere to be seen. Could I saunter right up to the gate without an electronic frisking?
I glanced right and then left. A young looking yellow Labrador in a camouflage-green harness sniffed at a woman nearby, and then padded over to me. He took a whiff of my front jeans pocket and sat down while looking up at his handler as if to say, “OK, I found it. Give me a treat!”
“Hmm, this could be interesting” I mused quietly to no one nearby.
“Sir, this is our money dog. May I see your wallet?” The guard queried in the Dutch accent of those whose second language really is English.
I pulled my wallet out. “Just some Euros, Pounds, and Dollars,” I replied. “A few hundred worth.”
“Thank you, sir.” Without a second glance he waived me on.
I re-pocketed my wallet and descended into the flow. What was that all about? Was Interpol cracking down on money laundering or counterfeiters? Was Airport Security looking for a new exploding wallet threat, having abandoned the exploding shoe and underwear ploys? But here I was in the main terminal with nothing apparent to block access to the gates other than the Friday morning crowd. I could have something nasty in my roller bag. For that matter, so could anyone else around me.
My normal sense of security amidst the mass of fellow passengers who all had been probed by our present blend of high and low tech began to evaporate. We’ll see how it goes at the gate, I reasoned, as I waited in line at the “Dutch Kitchen” for a helping of Poffertjes and strong coffee. Why not call it simply the “Kitchen?”
I needed that cup of brew. I had arrived in England only on Tuesday and my internal clock now sat somewhere between Portland (11 PM), New York (2 AM), and complete confusion. As caffeine began to lift the web of sleep inducing neuroinhibiters I remembered that much of the currency we pass around is contaminated with traces of cocaine and meth.
So, the “money” dog was a drug puppy. That was fine with me. Maybe he’d earn his keep today and find some fool who tried to carry through the airport what could be obtained easily in downtown Amsterdam. But what about the would-be mad bombers?
This concern was partially allayed at my gate. Here were the x-ray machines, scanners, magnetometers, and keen-eyed youngsters on the lookout. That was reassuring, but the scene had been the same every time I had taken this flight back home. Flights from Amsterdam or Frankfurt to the U.S. as well as to the U.K. always had their own secondary checks, which now in Amsterdam at least had become the primary checks.
I don’t know what level of screening is applied these days for fliers leaving Amsterdam for other ports inside the E.U. From this experience I have to assume that either I was waived through by a distracted guard or that each flight now has its own screening process in situ. The former reduces my sense of security in transit, should I have had much faith in the screening process anyway. The latter may reveal some new rifts in cooperation and cross-confidence between security organizations in the countries of the European Union.
Next time I’m outbound from Amsterdam’s famed international travel hub, I’ll look for better screening than a sniff from the Money Dog of Schipol.