IT’S a tiny island airport where most of the passengers know most of the staff. But the airline which flies in to Islay, off the west coast of Scotland, has lodged an official complaint about “overzealous” security.
Loganair, which operates on behalf of Flybe, said travellers were upset by the frequency and intrusiveness of passenger and hand luggage searches.
Islanders also say there is widespread resentment and animosity among regular fliers at their treatment by security staff, despite knowing them personally.
In addition, they have been angered by a series of false alarms over explosives being detected in passengers’ laptop computers, which have triggered evacuations of the terminal and roads being cordoned off.
Loganair said it had raised passengers’ concerns with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) “at the highest level” after receiving far more complaints about Islay than any of the ten other airports run by HIAL. David Harrison, the chief executive of the airline, which flies up to three times a day between Glasgow and Islay using a 34-seat aircraft, said: “The subjective impression is that security can be more rigorous at Islay, and we have made representations to the highest level at HIAL.
“We want to see security proportionate to the risk and not more than is sensible. Security is a potential deterrent to people travelling and that is of great concern for us. People say it is a big hassle.
“We want to see a regime that is as sensitive to the passenger and as unobtrusive as possible. We continue to encourage HIAL management to try to achieve that.”
Islay has a resident population of around 4,000 people but it is also a busy holiday island with a thriving malt whisky industry based in eight distilleries.
One islander, Mark Rainier, managing director of the Bruichladdich distillery, said the situation would be comical if it was not such an inconvenience for passengers.
He said: “There is a great deal of animosity about this on the island. It breeds huge resentment.
“Hand luggage is searched every time you fly. You can travel round the world and Islay is the only place where you get this.
“On the surface, it would make a fantastic Ealing comedy, but it’s extremely tedious.
“Security is over the top. We know each other by Christian name but still have to be body searched. There is a masquerade [with security staff] that we don’t know each other – when in fact we were at school together.”
Another passenger, who regularly travels across Europe, said: “Security on Islay airport is the strictest I have ever experienced.
“They are OTT and search everything to the utmost degree.
“They make no exception. Even octogenarians who have lived on Islay all their life get the wheelchair disassembled – even when they have known the person for the last 50 years. I saw one woman, who was taking some free-range eggs to her friend on the mainland, getting them X-rayed.”
Paul Graham, who runs a hotel in Bruichladdich, said: “They are extremely overzealous. Security is top of the agenda, but there could be leeway.
“They have to search so many bags and you have to take your shoes off every time, but many passengers are flying to hospital appointments such as heart and cancer patients.
“The security staff are locals. The joke is that you are liable to be strip searched by someone who you were at school with there.”
The explosives alerts are understood to have involved scanning equipment, and have sparked full-scale emergencies, including police Special Branch officers being scrambled by helicopter from the mainland.
One of around four such incidents last year involved a Japanese tourist’s laptop, while another is believed to have delayed an eminent Swedish academic who was en route to deliver a lecture.
However, some experts said keeping security tight at smaller airports made sense. Aviation security consultant Chris Yates said: “On the one hand, you could argue that there is not the same need for rigour on domestic flights compared to those from places like Pakistan.
“However, on outlying islands, you need to watch out for what may be being shipped in in the dead of night, such as drugs like cocaine.
“I would suspect the authorities are keeping an eye open for an upswing in narcotics.”
A HIAL spokeswoman said: “HIAL cannot comment on processes and procedures. We comply with the regulations set out by the Department for Transport (DfT).
“HIAL and Loganair regularly discuss all matters pertaining to aviation in the Highlands and Islands, including compliance with DfT regulation and the maintenance of safe and secure operations at all our airports.”
Scanning equipment had been checked for potential faults last year. “The security equipment at Islay airport is regularly checked and is fully compliant with DfT regulations. An additional independent verification of the equipment took place in 2011 which confirmed that the equipment meets the required standards.”