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(10/31/2005) Through the kind invitation and cooperation of Continental Airlines, balidiscovery.com was invited on a "behind-the-scenes" tour of security and safety measures in place at Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport.
Accompanying Continental Airline's Bali Manager, Ms. Dara Mustika, during the arrival and departure process of their Sunday, October 23rd flight, I was permitted to view some of the elaborate security precautions in place to ensure the safety of passengers, crew and cargo flying on the only U.S. carrier currently landing in Indonesia.
A Much Audited Airport
Following the 2002 attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the bombing of a Bali night spot, international air travel safety both in Bali and around the world has come under intense scrutiny. Bali's busy airport undergoes regular safety reviews and audits conducted by, among others, Australian, Japanese, U.S. and Indonesian aeronautical authorities – each bringing strict standards and safety protocols that must be carefully adhered to for the airport to continue to service international air traffic. Failure to meet the exacting safety standards of any of these reviews could potentially result in a "no-fly order to Bali" being issued to the respective airlines governed by each national safety board.
In fact, just 2 days prior to the most recent bombing attack on three Bali dining venues, Bali's airport had just undergone a rigorous review by Indonesia's Civil Aviation Authorities, ensuring the airport confirms to the constantly evolving standards for safe airport and flight operations.
Uncompromising Layer Upon Layer of Security Controls
After clearing an initial x-ray screening of all luggage and passing through metal detectors at the departure halls entrance, Continental Passengers must then line-up in an area just before the check-in counter to undergo an interview with a highly-skilled multi-lingual screener, each of whom has undergone extensive training both in Indonesia and abroad. While specific details of what screeners are looking for during the vetting process remain classified, you can be sure that each passenger's general demeanor and bearing are assessed while screeners determine absolute ownership and responsibility for all luggage and trained eyes look for any clues of falsification and tampering with travel documents. Politely apologizing for any inconvenience caused, each piece of carry-on and checked luggage is opened and carefully examined by other members of the security staff.
This initial screening out of the way, passengers then step forward to present travel documents and tickets to the check-in staff who verify flights and make seating assignments while being constantly on the look-out any tell-tale signs from passengers or their baggage that would immediately trigger special safety procedures.
Once in possession of boarding passes, passengers with their hand-baggage proceed through the immigration and customs departure process where, once again, all travel documents and their possessors are personally verified by Indonesia's officialdom using computer-based data bases.
Most passengers standing in line at immigration queues are largely unaware that out of sight and within the bowels of the airport their baggage is traveling down an enclosed conveyor tunnel to a baggage staging area where each piece is carefully logged, filmed and subjected to another state-of-the-art screening by sophisticated machinery designed to detect any prohibited and dangerous materials. Once logged and cleared, each bag is assigned to a specific container that is carefully monitored and under full-time guard until it is formally sealed and sent to the aircraft loading staging area.
Life a Well-Choreographed Ballet
Meanwhile, CO 900 from Guam is landing and taxiing to its assigned passenger bay where in-coming passengers will be disembarked, cargo and luggage unloaded, and the entire interior of the aircraft swept for any extraneous objects before cleaners and caterers scramble to do the rapid turn-around of the aircraft for its departure, just 30 minutes away.
Operating like a well-choreographed ballet, carefully-trained members of staff appear, each committed to doing their well-orchestrated part of the aircraft arrival-departure process. Well in advance of the aircraft's arrival - cleaning crews, runway security staff, and maintenance staff are assembled in a specific sterile area under the passenger bridgeway where security staff carefully inspect each ID, examine each item of cleaning equipment to be carried on board the aircraft, and conduct a lengthy and detailed body-frisk inspection of every member of the service staff coming into contact with the aircraft.
We can personally attest to the serious intent of those assigned to do this inspection. On the night of balidiscovery.com's visit, our access to the aircraft included a very thorough "pat down," followied by the required presentation of shoes, wallets, hand phones and the contents of every pocket for closer examination by the guard. Following this personal examination of many minutes' duration, the security guard then cautioned me that it was a condition of my special invitation that I would readily submit to another complete re-examination if, at any time during my visit, I did not remain in close visual contact to my escort, Ms. Mustika. Now, here was a guy who took his training and his job seriously.
Swept and cleared by security and confined to the sterile area, I saw the appraoching B737-800 Continental Airline jet roll to a stop near our location. As wheel chocks were put into place fuel trucks and luggage cans – held at separate sterile and secure staging points – slowly advanced on the aircraft while the mechanical air bridge above hummed and lined-up on the plane's door. No doubt unnoticed by the passengers on the plane preparing to bolt as soon as the seat-belt sign went off, a phalanx of armed Air Force Guards emerged from the shadows forming a circle of protection around the planes perimeter that would remain steadfastly in place until flight CO 901 was "pushed back" and began its taxi roll for take off clearance for the flight back to Guam.
Cut to the Departure Lounge
Meanwhile, passengers who had completed their immigration clearance made their way past through duty-free shops, restaurants and special lounges to departure gate #2. There, once again, documents and personal luggage were x-rayed, screened and, more often than not, hand-searched before their owners were admitted to the the final departure lounge. However, before being permitted to take their seats in the departure lounge, each passenger encountered trained male and female security guards who physically "patted down" them down and carfully inspected the contents of all pockets and clothing compartments.
While no doubt viewed as an inconvenience by many travelers, there's an obvious seriousness with which the Continental team carries out their security checks; a seriousness, born of the very real threat of air terrorism existing everywhere in the world today. When I asked one passenger if he minded the extensive and time-staking security precautions he had undergone, he said "yes," but quickly added that he'd never board any aircraft today where no security screening was in operation.
For security systems to work, they must by nature be uncompromising. That harsh lesson was driven home to two young female Japanese passengers during my visit who arrived at the check in counter only minutes after the check in process was formally closed. Insufficient time remaining for all the required layers of security screaning, the women were told that their holiday in Bali would now be six days longer while they waited for the next Continental Airline