Frankfurt Airport · open letter

An Open Letter To Frankfurt Airport

Dear Frankfurt Airport,

We have a bit of a history, don’t we, you and I? I can look back now and laugh about the day you almost set the police on me for having an empty bullet cartridge in my check-in luggage. At the time it wasn’t so funny. 

The Christmas my husband and I and our two young sons were snow-bound within your walls for three days has become a family anecdote. You treated us well and son number one even appeared on the evening news the second day. 

There were a few pleasantly uneventful years as we flew over and back between Frankfurt and Dublin. The children learnt the ropes and got used to walking through the security portal. The security staff were always friendly to them. My husband and I were never concerned about the situation. 

All that changed, however, with the introduction of the body scanning pods you now have in place. We first encountered them in July. It felt odd to have to strike a particular pose and be scanned conpared to walking throught a doorway and hearing, or not hearing, a beep.

It stuck us as a little strange that the baby had to be handed through the pod by me to my husband and that he had to be frisked the the security lady as my husband held him. 

The old system of walking through the portal with the baby on my arm was preferable, but no longer an option. I tend not to carry explosives, knives or guns and even if I did I doubt would hide them about my baby’s person. But maybe I am not your typical passenger.  

On the evening of 26th December 2015 I undertook my first trip to Dublin alone with my three young sons. I was prepared for a lot – that one of them might briefly get lost, there would be a tantrum, or a nappy would leak. I was not in the least prepared for what actually happened.

Standing in the queue for the security scan, we took off our jackets, took out our liquids and unpacked our electronics. Seasoned travellers that we are, we thought we knew what was going on. 

Our turn came. “Are you travelling alone?” the security staff asked me. I replied that I was, with my three sons. Naively I expected some sort of assistance. 

First son number one (7 y/o) then son number 2 (5 y/o) went through the pod. As I entered the pod I saw a security man lead my sons away to the cabinets. I called to him to please wait for me. His female colleague, who was holding my toddler, blocked my way and told me to stay in the pod. 

As I was scanned my young sons were frisked. Out of my sight and against my wishes. By one person. No witness there to ensure procedures were followed. They didn’t kick up a fuss or call for their mammy. They were on their best behaviour, knowing that their mammy had asked them to be good boys at the airport.

I wish now that I had clingy, bold children. Children who would scream and make a fuss, stamp on the toes of security personnel and run back to their mammy when someone tries to touch them. 

When I tried to complain I was told by the same female employee who blocked my way out of the pod, “Wir haben hier Vorschriften” [we have regulations]. Shocked, and not wanting to risk upsetting my children, I babbled something about how children should not be frisked without a parent present. 

Sadly, I was ignored. We gathered our belongings from the conveyor rollers and proceeded to the boarding gate. That is three weeks ago now, but I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that this is very bad policy, malicious or not as the motives may have been. 
Just as you are concerned about the security and welfare of your passengers, I am primarily interested in the security and well-being of my children. As long as I can help it, I will not let anyone take them away and frisk them. 

My advice to you: take a good look at your “Vorschriften” and your technology, then change them.  Make it your policy that children’s parents are asked and are present, if and when children really do need to be frisked after being scanned. I mean, how useless must those body scanners be if children with nothing in their pockets, wearing no buckles, belts or chains and with no metal plates inside their bodies have to be frisked as a security precaution?
Thankfully all this seems to have passed over my children’s heads. But I know what I will be drilling into them before we travel through Frankfurt Airport again. “Listen to Mammy and no-one else. Scream and shout and struggle if anyone, even a security person, tries to lead you away. Be bold and make a show”. 

In anticipation of a family-friendlier Frankfurt Airport,

Yours,

Fionnuala




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14 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Frankfurt Airport

  1. Almost all German airports have these now and we just happen to have a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend etc, who is a Bundespolizist. He said the body scanner is optional! If you don't want to go through it, you can ask for the “old-fashioned” manual check. Everytime I've flown this year I've asked for the manual. The (out-sourced) security have never been happy about it even when it is suggested that these machines are taking away their jobs, and we also don't know what consequences there are for your health when you spend 8 hrs a day standing beside these machines… If they tell you there are “Vorschriften”, ask for the Bundespolizist/polizei who stand behind the security desk. The female security woman was very “robust” with me and said “if there are no medical reasons, you should be going through it”. I told her about our acquaintance and she shrugged and said “never heard of that before”! So much for the “Vorschriften”! A fellow Irishwoman in Germany!

  2. Oh this is horrible! I can't believe they took your boys away to be frisked without you there! This must have been so upsetting & scary for you. I'm glad it went over the boys's heads but that's not the point really. That can't be their proper protocol, it seems illegal. There's one airport in NY that uses these & they place people in randomly. I don't think you can refuse it but there was an outrage around the when they launched because the sees a fairly detailed silhouette of your body image. I have traveled several times on my own with the kids & have been repeatedly disappointed with the lack of understanding or assistance in other countries. I have come to the conclusion that parents with children are suspicious as my kids backpacks are always pulled aside to open & check the contents. I'm glad you write this letter & I hope it raises awareness. x

  3. Thanks Becky. I am waiting for a reply from the airport after sending this by e-mail and tweeting them about it. They replied to the tweet at least, so hopefully I will get some kind of direct response from them.

  4. absolutely shocking! I have had to have Arthur passed through a pod by me/his father and it is such a job to remove him from the sling, put him back in etc, especially if he was napping…i would be very unhappy about my child being searched without a parent/guardian present. unacceptable really #twinklytuesday

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  5. Not good. I would have felt exactly the same if someone 'official' had taken my boys off like that to be frisked. That is a kind of scary thing for them anyway so I'm glad yours took it in their stride but I really hope that the airport apologises and agrees that they will not do such a thing again. Whilst everyone appreciates the fact that security is for the safety of everyone – after all it's not the 'typical' person who commits acts of terrorism – at the same time not allowing a parent to be present for the frisking does not make the check any better or safer so why do it? #thetruthabout

  6. It was worrying at the time but thinking about it now makes me nervous about what could happen. It can't believe that it is proper protocoll. Let's see what the airport replies.

  7. Exactly Samantha. The only normal reason I can think of to do it would be to get people processed through security a little faster. But even then, it is not a good policy.

  8. How awful. That really does sound like an odd policy which surely needs to be changed. I personally find going through airport security with my children very stressful. Last time my youngest set off the beeper thing and had to have further checks but I was always next to him – although even that made me feel really uncomfortable. I know they're only doing their jobs, but I find the formality and hostile-feeling atmosphere very difficult to deal with. I hope you get a response soon!

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