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Last week I took a flight from X to Y. Since Airport X is closed, they took us to the Military Airport.

All the process happened outside of the building. However, they haven’t checked our baggage.

I had all my electronics and stuff in my backpack and we went straight into the airplane. The message I understood, even nobody said it, was: leave the country as quick as possible (because of the pandemic).

However, it was a huge airplane, a known company, departing from a big city to another important city. There was no security check either for checked in luggage and not for the backpacks either.

Is that common? Is it acceptable? The flight was safe and everyone arrived successfully to airport Y.

Eventually I can disclose the flight number and all the other information, since it’s not really secret, but my question is in general.

  • 4
    Out of curiosity which country was X in? – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 22 at 12:10
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    Who's "they"? Who organised this flight? Who were the passengers? Who was on board with you? – Relaxed Apr 22 at 13:08
  • @Relaxed Yes, the organisers. – Ionică Bizău Apr 23 at 17:39
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    @FranckDernoncourt Well, as I mentioned, it is not something necessarily secret (one can deduce this looking at my latest posts), but my question is not referring to this flight in particular but in general: if it is a custom that the humanitarian flights won't have security checks these days. – Ionică Bizău Apr 23 at 17:49
  • @IonicăBizău ok I was curious to know which country your government were recommending to "leave the country as quick as possible (because of the pandemic)." – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 23 at 17:51
59

Had you been able to fly from a major civilian airport with all the security you'd normally expect then doubtless you'd have been treated to the usual security theatre.

You didn't. You flew from a military airfield that clearly had no passenger handling facilities. You flew on a one-time flight, where the entire passenger complement travelled by invitation.

These are extraordinary times and nothing is 'common'. The crew and organisers did what they had to do to get you home. Be thankful - there are thousands of people stuck around the world who haven't been so lucky.

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    I am definitely very thankful. It just seemed interesting to me since it was the first time when I saw this. – Ionică Bizău Apr 22 at 16:36
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    It may be worth pointing out this used to be the norm before people went bonkers and decided that throwing away billions of dollars on precautions that do nothing at best and are actively harmful at worst was a good idea. – DRF Apr 22 at 18:02
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    @user1173240 Not 1960's even 1990's. And regarding the precautions, it's everything from being forced to take of my shoes, go through full body scanning devices that don't really do anything, confiscating knives, liquids, scissors and bottle pills, none of which they are capable of doing consistently, while allowing hundreds of laptops and lithium powered devices on board, and I could go on for much longer. – DRF Apr 23 at 8:50
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    @DRF xkcd.com/651 – user11153 Apr 23 at 9:51
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    @user1173240 Here, have a read: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_theater – Konrad Rudolph Apr 23 at 11:01
23

You were on a military (or State Dept.) flight.

This would have been a lot more obvious if the airframe had been haze grey and an Antonov-124 and had military logos on it.

But the fact is, a lot of military flights fly with leased civilian equipment. Usually this is third-tier civilian fleets like cargo planes (e.g. Kalitta Air), but in the current regime, several things are true:

  • First-rate commercial airlines are happy to take any business they can get.
  • Governments would much rather hire them than subsidize them, because subsidies are political third rails, and big treaty issues.
  • Logistics people are happy to have an actual passenger airplane instead of having to improvise with a cargo plane.

I drive by a USAF logistics base from time to time, and there are constantly large airliners of a variety of marques and nationalities in there, or just unmarked white-tails. They are deploying or returning troops. The US uses this same infrastructure to repatriate citizens for COVID-19, and brings them into those same logistics bases.

Mind you, the flight was probably arranged by your State Department aka Foreign Office, i.e. the diplomatic corps who run embassies, haggle out treaties, help developing nations, issue visas, etc. Same deal; they're contracting out to get an aircraft (probably "wet" i.e. supplied with airline crew and support). If anybody can talk a foreign nation into lending use of a military base, it'd be your country's State Dept.

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  • Kalitta Air is third rate? :( – trognanders Apr 24 at 0:11
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    @trognanders More like third tier. But they were flying 747-200s a year ago. They're not quite Buffalo Airways, but definitely appreciate the classics... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 24 at 3:21
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    Fair enough, I follow them because I appreciate the classics as well. – trognanders Apr 24 at 4:01
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    @trognanders Yeah, when I first spotted Kalitta Air on the list of 747-200 operators, I figured "hmm, I wonder what 'Stan they're from (Kazakh, Uzbeki etc.) Turns out they're from St'ann Arbor. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 25 at 6:36
  • Amazing :) They fly into KDMA sometimes, some of the only 747s we get to see here. Kind of exciting to see the exotic places they fly in FlightAware. On the Aviation SE, there is a retired 747 cargo pilot, Terry, who tells some intriguing stories. – trognanders Apr 25 at 17:51
14

If it wasn't a scheduled commercial flight, then different security rules (or none!) may apply.

I don't know what country you were in, or what the nature of the flight was (as you didn't specify), but it sounds like you took a flight which wasn't a scheduled commercial service. (Even if it is a major carrier and has a flight number, it still might not be a scheduled commercial service.) In many countries, entire sets of rules don't apply to such flights.

For instance, in the US, such a flight might be considered general aviation and fly under Part 91, and neither the passengers nor baggage would have to go through any sort of government mandated security procedure unless it was flying into Washington, DC.

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11

A whole risk class does not apply.

The main risk is somebody hijacking the plane.
Hijacking takes preparation, which doesn't work too well on an ad-hoc flight.
Even if a potential terrorist happened to be in the group eligible for the flight, they are unlikely to have weapons or bombs easily accessible; plus it's likely that they will be accommodated in some central place because they have to wait for the plane to actually arrive, and it's easier to monitor them for suspicious behaviour in that time.

So you are eliminating a much smaller risk than normal if you insist on searching the baggage, and as long as nobody manages to actually sneak a bomb on a humanitarian flight, authorities are likely to leave it that way.

And that's likely also the reason why regulations are much more relaxed.

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  • Great answer. Security theater has a purpose, but we often forget it and do it in a cargo cult go-through-the-motions way. Terrorist threat is minimal since it's an ad-hoc flight, and bad guys can't observe any security weaknesses to exploit them later. Planning is almost impossible here, so the only way to attack is to happen to be a citizen waiting for evacuation and decide to bring a bomb or a gun along just in case luggage isn't checked. – dbkk Apr 23 at 11:53
  • "Hijacking takes preparation, which doesn't work too well on an ad-hoc flight." Doesn't work too well on military bases either. While the security of the flight is less, the security of the surrounding area during lift-off is quite high. I don't think many hijackers would want to risk it. – Mast Apr 24 at 8:31
  • @Mast Yeah it would be difficult in the military base to stage an attack, but this is about preventing in-flight attacks, so that's a somewhat less important factor. The logistics would be a bit more difficult because it's harder to find out the ins and outs on that base, though, so preparation would be more difficult. – toolforger Apr 24 at 10:49
  • The only preparation necessary is to get a gun. In some countries it could be easy if you have the money. The whole base around does not mean anything when they actually do not check once the airplane is in the air. – Vladimir F Apr 24 at 12:15
  • @VladimirF Not really. Pre 9/11, a gun was usually enough to hijack a plane, because people believed that if they did nothing, everything would be fine. There'd be some delay, maybe a ransom, and they would walk away. Post 9/11, that belief is dead. A lot of people now believe that if they do nothing, they'll be crashed into a building and die, which often causes the hijacker to be mobbed by terrified people. Most hijackers don't want to shoot people. If they wanted to shoot people, they just need a public place. To manage that goal, rather than being mobbed, they do need a plan. – Patrick M Apr 24 at 18:52
7

Luggage doesn't appear to be a major concern in these situations, compared to triage, crowd control, interfacing with local authorities, etc. If anything, you're more likely to be searched when reaching the collection points than just before boarding the plane.

This doctrine document from the French military doesn't mention anything specific regarding luggage but this dossier does include pictures of soldiers sifting through a suitcase and searching people in Rwanda in 1994 (p. 23).

Generally speaking, there is nothing magical about X-ray machines or having electronics on a plane. To the extent that regular procedures serve a purpose, it's also through deterrence and reducing (not eliminating) the risk someone might a laptop to hide a knife to hijack a plane. But it's only one risk among many it's entirely reasonable to mitigate it in other ways or make other trade-offs, especially in emergency situations.

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