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The new EU security rules are proving hard to grasp not just for travellers, but also for shop staff and security personnel charged with advising those travellers. And when mistakes – honest mistakes – are made by personnel at BAA and Dublin Airport Authority – two of the companies you’d bet your house on getting it right – then you know it will take time, effort and commitment to mitigate the confusion that exists about the new rules, both in Europe and beyond.
Travelling to the Middle East Duty Free Association Conference in Dubai, I began my journey at Shannon Airport in Ireland and transited through London Heathrow. At Shannon I asked whether I could buy a bottle of gin and take it through Heathrow and on to Dubai. I was surprised to be told that I could not.
After all, the Shannon website states: “If the first flight begins at an airport in the EU and items have been purchased beyond the passenger security points, these liquids will be placed in a tamper evident bag and therefore will conform to the regulations. Therefore passengers can take these liquids on-board their second flight, as long as the items are still packed in tamper-evident bags.”
Maybe I misread the advice, I thought. But then I met Aer Rianta International Director General Eamon Foley, who was also travelling to Dubai via Shannon, and he too was looking confused. As we chatted it turned out that he had asked the same question at Shannon Duty Free, and got the same answer. Both of us were told we would have our liquor confiscated at Heathrow, even if it was packed in the required sealed bag. Both us were told to buy at Heathrow. Out of curiosity then, as we passed through security at Heathrow T4 for our connecting flight, we asked the question – “If we had bought at Shannon, and had a sealed bag, would you have confiscated?” Yes, we would, said T4 security staff.
Confused? We certainly were. In each case, of course, the staff at Shannon and the security people at T4 got it wrong. Shannon should have sold us liquor in a sealed bag, and Heathrow should have accepted it as a bona fide purchase.
It’s not hard to see where the confusion arises, even among staff. The rules have changed several times at every EU airport since 10 August.
You can’t – and we didn’t – blame the staff at those airports. The people we spoke to in each case were professional, courteous and helpful. But the errant responses we got underline the huge task this industry faces in communicating the intricacies of the new rules to staff, and through those front-line staff to travellers. The responsibility falls on management to get this communication right – and get it right soon – at airport and retailer level. If they don’t, it will be a long, hard winter for travel retail in Europe.