Missing MH370: Travelling no longer a breeze

Missing MH370: Travelling no longer a breeze

Airports in the region have increased security checks following the disappearance of MH370.

 

Last Saturday, I was in mid-air on MAS flight MH601 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to Singapore when news of the Boeing 777-200 aircraft flying to Beijing from KLIA that went missing was released by MAS at 7.24am.

When my aircraft touched down at Changi Airport at 8.20am and was taxiing, I received a call from my captain friend on the breaking news and the moment I stepped out, the ground staff informed me that the incident was already out on the republic's news channels.

Almost immediately, security at the airport was intensified and the queue at immigration started to grow longer.

Normally, it takes less than 10 minutes to clear Singapore immigration but that morning, it took me 45 minutes and under the close watch of security personnel.

A Filipino traveller who was in line and took photographs of the crowd using his tablet was immediately pulled up by security personnel and ordered to delete the images.

On Friday, I had to travel again to Darwin for a talk and I noticed the mood at KLIA was different. There was no cheerful ambience as on the morning of March 8 and there was a worried look on the faces of almost every traveller.

The departure hall was not busy for a Friday evening and there was no queue at any of the passenger check-in counters.

My check-in process took less than five minutes and at my first security screening upon entering the immigration hall, two plain-clothes security officers kept giving me uncomfortable stares and I was allowed entry after the details on my passport matched with the boarding pass.

Immigration clearance was smooth via the autogate for Malaysians but it was not the same for foreigners. The queue was long and visitors expressed frustration over the more than one hour wait to pass through immigration.

Security screening at the boarding hall was unusually stringent with over a dozen uniformed and plainclothes security officers handling the process.

For the first time in years of travel­ling, I was asked to remove my shoes, watch and belt before passing through the scanner. Electronic gadgets were also removed from my hand luggage for scanning.

I walked past the metal detector which did not beep but the security staff stopped and frisked me anyway. My hand luggage was opened and examined thoroughly.

My bottle of drinking water was seized and, finally, before boarding I was stopped and questioned by two officers about the purpose of my trip.

The crew on the flight, MH145, checked the passenger manifest and did a head count as the 55 passengers took their seats. Despite the strict checks, the 160 seating capacity B737 took off on schedule at 10.55pm.

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