4 tips for avoiding airport security headaches for the travelling acoustician

James Hill - February 2016

Any of you who have attended one of the IOA “Art of being a consultant” meetings will have seen that one of the more glamorous aspects to the life of an acoustician is the opportunity to travel. Whilst I can count the number of glamour destinations I’ve visited on one hand (a shame more power plants don’t get built next to beach resorts) – I thought I would cover some of the more interesting trips for the IOA blog.

Unfortunately, the only place I’ve visited so far this year is Watford so to begin I’ll be relying on past experiences. An interesting discussion topic on the IOA Linked-in forum last year was on the subject of flying abroad carrying acoustical equipment. Arguably, the suggestion of shipping the equipment to site separately is a sensible one but for those who are gearing up for airport security checks, I thought I’d offer some tips so you can learn from my mistakes and not end up doing your best karaoke impression to demonstrate what a microphone is for to Japanese border police.

If you are new to travelling for work, don’t worry. Although I’ve been stopped lots of times, I’ve never been turned away or had to check my hand luggage.  Whilst these tips won’t guarantee you the same (I’m sure many acousticians have had more serious issues), they will generally speed up your trips through security.

1.Take everything out of your bag

It takes a little longer and somebody in a suit will undoubtedly make a comment under his breath but in the long run I think it averages out quicker. Get all your electronic equipment separated and in trays – although I have got away with a pelicase with the lid open. Things like Microphones will regularly get your bag pulled for searching. The other benefit here is that if you split everything out, they will only search the tray with the suspicious item in it, rather than going through your whole bag!

2.Don’t have excessive amounts of wiring

Having lots of wires is a sure-fire way to get pulled at the security checkpoint. Unless they are absolutely crucial to the measurements I’m taking if I need anything more than 1m or so of wiring it goes in the checked bag. It probably doesn’t matter what you do with the wiring, just be ready to explain what you need it for.

3.Make sure everything is fully charged

This has been brought in recently for things like mobile phones and laptops but it especially applies to less common electronic equipment – it is so much easier to demonstrate that your gear is what you say it is if you can turn it on and operate it. Generally having lots of batteries in your hand luggage is frowned upon but make sure you have enough to operate everything.

4.Avoid DIY equipment

Like many others, I have various homemade bits and pieces to get around budget constraints, from spliced wire adaptors to DIY battery boxes. Ideally, put this stuff in your check-in baggage or leave it behind but if you are taking through anything with loose wires make sure it is neat, tidy and housed in a closed casing. One of the longest delays I had was for a calibrator with the back unscrewed and the battery connector visible.  

Comments

Other travel issues

I was held up at the Eurostar terminal on a trip to Brussels many years ago because the hire meter I was taking with me tested positive for explosives! My only explanation for this was that it may have been used close to a starting pistol if someone had used it for SI testing. Not easy to explain to security. They did agree to repeat the test and decided to let it through the second time. I was spared the rubber gloves.