Sydney International Airport: Stupid, Criminal, or Criminally Stupid?
Hanlon's razor tells us:
"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity"
and this maxim has been my good friend for a long time.
But sometimes the stupidity is too acute to be plausible. Surely stupidity has limits?
Here's a case that left me gobsmacked.
For the last few years, airport security checks have been confiscating any liquid that is over 150ml or is not in a clear container. This is due to a security scare at some time. Fair enough, I accept that.
It turns out that they are also confiscating items purchased in-transit -- perfumes and duty free liquor, for example. I accept this too: I mean it's stupid, but it's within the usual bounds of plausible stupidity that we encounter every day. It's been going on for a few years now.
But here's the case of implausible stupidity I encountered last week at Syndey airport.
There's a duty free store encountered in-transit, just before a blind corner, at which there is an unexpected security check point.
So a store is selling items to people who will be forced, just 10 metres down the road, to relinquish their purchases.
Here's my mud map of the situation:
(Note that I didn't suffer this fate myself, I witnessed it happen to about 10 percent of the people from my plane.)
A duty free store sells goods just before a blind corner.
You walk around the blind corner and you enter a small, fast moving security check point.
Once your liquid goods have passed through the x-ray machine, they are confiscated. Everyone looks surprised. Even the security guards act like this has never happened before.
For many of the victims of this situations, this is their very first experience of Australia. Some kind of a crazy country where everyone is out to trick you.
(My wife and I were so impressed by this, that we found a quiet spot to observe the security checkpoint from above. It definitely wasn't an isolated case, it was very common. And the security guards looked amazed every time.)
I am pretty sure there's some organised crime occuring here, because the alternative explanation, stupidity, is just too impossible to be believed.
In the absence of a criminal conspiracy, here's 6 solutions that would've been better than confiscating the liquor:
- The shop should inform the in-transit passengers that their liquor will be confiscated, before making the purchase.
- The checkpoint could allow the passengers to return to the shop and demand a refund on the sale of the liquor.
- The airline could warn the in-transit passengers (before they leave the plane) that any liquor they purchase in transit will be confiscated.
- Instead of issuing the actual liquor, issue some kind of voucher which the person can use to collect the liquor at a final destination.
- Respect the shop's tamper-proof packaging, as this ought to indicate that the goods are safe for travel. (If need be, an upgraded form of tamper proofing would be sufficient).
- The security checkpoint could confiscate the goods, put them into tamper proof bags of their own, and deliver them to the cargo hold of the plane. (This is how 'dangerous items' like fruit knives used to be transported)(If this costs too much it could be reimbured by fining the shop who sold the goods)
But what's really going on here? What do you think happens to all that liquor?
I sincerely hope that there's a racket of some sort. Maybe it gets sold back to the shop. Maybe the security guards hang onto it.
I'm not sure, but I just hope there's a profitable crime going on, because in such a blatant case, malice is far more understandable than
Sorry for the hiatus. Have been on holiday.
'Omer van Kloeten' on Thu, 13 Aug 2009 20:27:41 GMT, sez:
On my recent trip, I visited quite a few airports and in each one I looked to buy anything at there was a clear distinction: First the security check, then the duty free shops.
There's always the path of civil lawsuit, or better yet, class action. Clear case of misleading customers.
'Stonie' on Thu, 13 Aug 2009 21:06:42 GMT, sez:
As a Sydneysider I'm embarrassed to be reading this. Do you remember the name of the duty free store or gate number etc? I will lodge a complaint with the airport.
'Trevel' on Thu, 13 Aug 2009 21:18:05 GMT, sez:
Presumably the shop was there BEFORE the security theater decided that terrorists were going to try to drown passengers one by one using small bottles of water.
Still, you'd think SOMEONE would have noticed it by now.
'Ar' on Thu, 13 Aug 2009 22:23:58 GMT, sez:
they are sposed to check your travel documents and make sure your not going to end up anywhere that your stuff will be confiscated. in this case it seems a moot point as the confiscation was almost immediate.
'lb' on Thu, 13 Aug 2009 22:59:34 GMT, sez:
The shop doesn't have to shut down.
There's another exit, not shown on the mudmap, for customers who are leaving the airport (they have arrived at their final destination and don't get confiscated).
The security check is for customers who are in-transit. (We were actually hoping back onto the same plane once it refueled)
i can describe the location. There is a gloria jeans cafe, and right behind it is a set of escalators, that lead up from the security check point.
I've found a map of the international terminal here:
The escalators i'm talking about are near departure gates 50-63, C wing (they lead up from the check point. The shop in question is one floor down, pretty much underneath gloria jeans (C22).
'Kyralessa' on Fri, 14 Aug 2009 14:08:51 GMT, sez:
I would assume that what happens is the guards return the items to the store, which gives them a small reimbursement per item, then puts the items on the shelf to "sell" again.
'Willie' on Fri, 14 Aug 2009 20:36:00 GMT, sez:
I think before I've done this and instead of picking the items up at the store they deliver them to your gate, you give them the gate number when you purchase the items.
I've also had this happen even when the store is within the security boundary.
'tourist.tan' on Sat, 15 Aug 2009 07:34:05 GMT, sez:
Now it can be plain stupidity; Both the airport and the shop are per profit organisation. But with different side aim.
The Airport needs to ensure the security is respected, and the shop needs to be able to sell what ever their products are to punters.
They probably just ignoring each other's practice. And that is reflecting in the behaviour of their respective staff.
I can see the security personel to simulate surprise not to shock the passengers of their inability to close the shop, and potentially not to go against people that they would have to deal on a daily basis.
As for the shop staff, they could be low paid staff that don't give a second thought to customers, following the example of the shop's manager/owner.
It's pretty much down to the shop to stop this selling practice and seek a solution with the airport management.
I cannot see it as criminality.
Next time record it and upload it on utube or something like that. ;)
'David H' on Mon, 17 Aug 2009 03:20:48 GMT, sez:
Uuuh, hello? How else are the security guards supposed to get free booze!?! I mean, come on, they probably already have to give a cut back to the duty free shop staff. And it's bloody hard work feigning amazment, hour after hour, all day long.
'judge jools' on Wed, 26 Aug 2009 20:23:53 GMT, sez:
same thing happen to be in international transit in Bangkok.
Got off the flight for 40 mins and wandered around the duty free shops while the plane refuled etc. Purchased a few drinks for the onward journey to Sydney and on the way back on to the plane had all liquids confiscated.
Luckily I hand't purchased any expensive liquor
'arabyana' on Thu, 27 Aug 2009 18:09:44 GMT, sez:
I was really glad to read your writing
Thank you for the great post.
'Giles' on Fri, 28 Aug 2009 12:44:53 GMT, sez:
Clearly a case of sufficiently advanced stupidity being indistinguishable from malice...
'mister bee' on Thu, 03 Sep 2009 22:26:55 GMT, sez:
'Anonymous' on Tue, 08 Sep 2009 13:49:44 GMT, sez:
Actually something like this happened to me in Finland. You can buy liquor fill candy after the security. However for US flights there was an extra 'surprise' security checkpoint before boarding, and they did not allow the candy in. You could see passengers either going back for refund, eating all the candy before boarding, or just throwing it out. I think a few passengers boarded with a little buzz going.
'Reba' on Fri, 11 Sep 2009 08:21:07 GMT, sez:
I wonder if anyone is ever able to have a flight not accompanied by a 10-top-vicious-airport-practices story.
You get robbed of your water (clear container, mind you), while you are not boarding anything yet (you've got something like an eternity before your plane leaves). Your luggage naturally gets lost. On the way back, noone cares you've got a duty-free bottle of liquor in your bag. Oh well.
'Carson Hayes' on Sat, 12 Sep 2009 13:19:26 GMT, sez:
The security checkpoint is actually an extension of the shop, and all of the staff at the checkpoint are shop employees.
It is the most effective way for the shop to maintain efficient inventory turnover, lower repurchasing and restocking fees, which they may even be able to pass along to their customers.
'Computer Aid' on Sun, 13 Sep 2009 11:10:13 GMT, sez:
A way to test for malice (and it would satisfy my vandalistic tendencies) :-) :
Bring along an empty booze bottle that you know will get confiscated...
"Fill" the bottle by urinating in it. You might need some glue to make the seal look intact.
Allow it to be confiscated... smiling all the way...
'Andreas' on Mon, 21 Sep 2009 10:56:52 GMT, sez:
So the clever traveler will put some clothes at the bottom of his/her hand baggage and just empty the bottle over the clothes. Once back at home/at destination just squeeze the clothes dry into a container of your choice. Serve! Any leakage could be saved by adding more clothes or consumed mid-flight. If several sorts of liquor has been purchased more bags with clothes are required or let the liquor mix in one bag for a pleasant surprise once consumed.
This way you will cheat the security officers and the shop on their extra income.
Note that once opened any one bottle smells like urine, DO NOT empty it in your bag, another traveler might have read this blog and decided to follow another response.
'Ashski' on Fri, 23 Oct 2009 06:37:54 GMT, sez:
I live in Sydney and I and the rest of Sydneysiders hate Sydney Airport and the unscrupulous merchant bank that owns and runs it. Since the Governtment sold off the rights to Macquarie Bank to operate the airport about 7 years ago we have seen every possibly rip off tactic employed. The example here is just another rip off to add to all the others. Taxi fees, outrageous parking rules and fees, outrageous luggage trolley fees.
There is a complete melt down in the international baggage area when more than a couple of jumbos arrive at the same time. There is insufficient room for people to collect bags and then queue for the quarantine inspections. The quarantine people are rude and racist and give a terrible first impression for new international arrivals.
'Catherine O'Neil' on Sat, 04 Dec 2010 03:02:21 GMT, sez:
On 2 occasions in recent years I have had expensive conqac and whisklhy taken from me. Last month I purchased consmetics in the Spa in the First class lounge in Dubai Airport. As I had checked my bags in at Venice I could not put it in my checked bags. It was in a sealed bag with the invoice and it was confiscated. I am fed up with their attitude and arrogance. What can we do about it?
'yemteeyee' on Wed, 13 Jul 2011 03:45:28 GMT, sez:
I bought a sony camera from sydney international duty free shop. I didnt check the box properly(i never expect a camera box with out a camera - my fault)There was every thing in the box - except the camera !!!!!. Any one here with similar experience from the sydney duty free shop ?