AA security – ‘Do you know the address of Macy’s in Manhattan’ ?

I was connecting recently from Copenhagen, through Heathrow to New York. Changing from British Airways terminal at T5 to T3, where American leaves is horrible. Bus, walk, security, walk and probably represents Heathrow at its worst. With BA having moved a good number of their long haul destinations to T3, more passengers are going to have to take this route.

AA 777 at LHR

At Heathrow T5, you have to get to one of the bussing gates for transfers. There are gates in the main terminal as well as at the B gates. By the time the bus gets to the B gates it’s packed and you will have to stand. The bus snakes its way to Terminal 3, with the drivers using their brakes excessively and throwing passengers around the bus. On arrival at T3, you have to go up to Arrivals where you mix with other arriving passengers before going back down to Connections and snaking through a long corridor.

Flagship Lounge LHR Flagship Lounge LHR

American operates a re-check facility off the corridor where their passengers are sent to have their passports checked and to receive new boarding passes. On the day I travelled there was a long line, even in their Premium queue as a flight had been cancelled and they were trying to rebook passengers. After 20 minutes in line we were sent away to the lounges.

This mean that security had to be done at the gate. I left the lounge early in order to make sure I was through security in time for boarding.

Arriving at the gate the security agent started the usual range of questions:

  • Where are you going?
  • How long are you staying for?
  • What is the purpose of the visit?
  • Where are you staying?

Fine in truth. Until she started on part 2:

  • You say you going for shopping, which stores will you be visiting?
  • Can you tell me their addresses?

Um, excuse me, it’s now a requirement to know the address of Macy’s to travel? When was that a rule?

  • Can you tell me what you do for work?
  • How long have you been there?
  • What sort of work do you do?
  • How long did you say you had been there?

So, clearly they are now repeating questions in the hope that they can catch you out with a different answer the second time. She stuck the sticker on my passport, and let me through.

I was surprised how rigorous this was bearing in mind that BA simply doesn’t do it this way.

Comments

  1. I am totally ok with asking questions like that. I think those answers are far more revealing.

  2. How often do you go to the US? The visa-less travel for european visitors is for specific purposes, and they may suspect you aren’t complying with them. They might think you have a real job here. (And you’re coming here for shopping? That is kind of an odd reason. Isn’t the dollar relatively strong against the Euro now-at least historically speaking? And Macy’s doesn’t really have the reputation Harrod’s has.)
    And there is talk of making Europeans get visa to travel to the US, so they might be trying to find out more about why Europeans are coming to the US, especially if they are making mulitiple trips.

  3. That Macy’s is the one store address you can reasonably expect someone to know, assuming they’ve seen the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th St. I see that the British release had an alternate title back in the day but it seems to be promoted with the same name now.

  4. @A – these were not at US Immigration – but rather by American Airlines whilst still in Heathrow. After my ESTA had been approved by the US Government, so the questions really are only to do with whether I might be a threat to the flight.

  5. It is curious what AA staff could possibly hope to discover by asking these questions.

    I remember once being asked with great suspicion, why I had left from Newark but was returning to a different airport – JFK. The guy looked dumbfounded when I shrugged and told him the ticket was $200 cheaper.

    To top it off, that flight was cancelled and I ended up on a connection to La Guardia!

    I suppose answer patiently and honestly is the only possible approach.

  6. These airline security contractors are wanted and approved by the US DHS/TSA. They ask these questions primarily for two purposes: to make sure people that are traveling are admissible and won’t end up being turned back at the operating airline’s expense; to look for security threats by flagging people for being inconsistent, nervous or otherwise fitting (or not fitting) some kind of stupid profile definition.

    It’s a dog and pony show done in the name of security but it’s basically a feel good measure more than anything else. Keep in mind that these TSA-wanted-and-approve security contractors hired by US airlines and working for US airline in Europe did not find the shoe bomb on the wannabe shoe bomber extremist; nor did they find the underwear bomb on the wannabe underwear bomber extremist. First class security, my foot, but this approach is largely built on the myth that Israel can do little/no wrong when it comes to aviation security.

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