I have already giving you some travel advise on how to prepare for your first trip to Tel Aviv. And my ‘Top Things to do in Tel Aviv’. But the one thing I only briefly touched on yet was the ordeal we had actually leaving Tel Aviv during our first trip.
When flying out to Tel Aviv, we expected questioning and tighter security and the works. And were a little surprised when realising that it was pretty much business as usual. Yes, we were asked two quick questions at border control in Tel Aviv, but that was it. No extra security check or interview before boarding in Heathrow.
Arriving at Tel Aviv airport for our flight back, the first hurdle was to actually find our bag drop. Somehow I naively thought having BA silver status would mean we could skip the rather long line at bag drop and head straight for the priority desk (as I would do at other airports). Silly me. Instead we were directed to actually join that queue and soon figured out that this was a rather slow progress. But we couldn’t quite figure out why. Since the actual bag drop / check in counters were free.
Still convinced we might have been directed to the wrong queue, we eventually figured it out. Before you could approach the desks, you had to get past a security control, where every passport was checked and every passenger was interviewed. Some took longer, some were rather quick.
So when it eventually was our turn, I stepped forward to the lady at the counter and handed over my passport. Firstly I was asked whether someone was travelling with me. I pointed out my colleague, which resulted in her having to hand over her passport as well, however she was then asked to step back and wait until it was her turn (making her feel a little uncomfortable standing there without her passport and without knowing what’s going on).
My passport was then thoroughly checked, all visa stamps inspected (not that many, three stamps from previous US trips were all I had to show).
Then the questioning began:
Was this my first time in Israel? Yes
Did I know anyone here? Well yes, my client.
Did I know any Hebrew? Nope, can’t even remember the word ‘thank you’. I can manage ‘shalom’, but that is pretty much it.
Where is my birth town? (Travelling on a UK passport whilst having a German town as your birth town seems to have puzzled her somehow).
Did anyone give me any parcels? No
With question time over, she put a yellow sticker on the back of my passport, handed it back to me and went on to question my colleague.
Whilst waiting, I could see that they had white and yellow stickers, but it wasn’t really obvious if those colours had any meaning (although I suspected they might, but I still haven’t worked it out).
We eventually both made it past the control and to the actual check in desk. With bags checked in (at least that bit was quick as we were indeed allowed to use the priority check in counter), we headed towards security.
All of this had already taken much longer than hoped, so in order to have enough time for duty free shopping and breakfast in the lounge, we’d better get going.
Approaching security, the sticker on our passport was inspected and we were sorted into a separate line with fellow yellow stickers. There were maybe 6 people ahead of us and it was two security lanes. So we expected it to be fairly quick. Yet it wasn’t. Unlike the checks on the way out, security here was really thorough. Good thing we didn’t take our suitcases as hand luggage… having to remove every single electrical item from my suitcase surely wouldn’t have been my idea of fun.
We started chatting to the guy in front of us and he informed us that this was normal procedure here and he had to endure this every other week, so we’d better learn to be patient.
Eventually it was my turn. I started unpacking my electronics, placing all items in the boxes: laptop, two phones, battery pack, charger, computer mouse… that’s it (I thought)… turned out I missed a plug adaptor at the bottom of my bag. Strike one
Then every item was swapped for explosives. Phew… all green. Apart from my laptop… AUTSCH. Red. What the heck? How could this be? Strike two.
OK, so I now had to wait for her supervisor. Meanwhile the lady continued checking my bag… out came my work files, she flicked through my notebook and diary. Opened every compartment of my bag (whilst still managing to miss my second passport, tucked into the back of my bag… probably a good thing, this might have raised even more questions).
Eventually the supervisor showed up, took the laptop and asked me to follow with my remaining belongings.
I was led to the packing area behind the scanner, my laptop was inspected once more, I had to open some files to proof the laptop was in working order.
I was then informed that my laptop would not be allowed on board with me. OK. Wait. What? OK, relax.
It was still allowed to go onto the same flight as me, but it had to be wrapped and put into a separate box to go into hold, rather than into the cabin with me.
Phew. Small mercies.
So whilst I waited for my luggage label, a large roll of bubble wrap and a cardboard box appeared and they started boxing up the laptop.
My colleague had meanwhile cleared security without any problems, but was patiently waiting with me, laughing her socks off at my expense.
With the laptop wrapped up, boxed and labelled, we were finally free to go and leave security behind us.
Now it was only border control between the long awaited departure area and us. Yes you get the concept… this meant more queuing.
Similar to the stay permit that we received when we arrived, we were now issued an exit permit. Luckily this was fairly quick, so that we eventually made it into the actual departure area.
By now it was too late to really go and have that breakfast in the lounge, so we headed straight to the duty free shop (for some last minute souvenir shopping) and grabbed a quick coffee before boarding our flight back.
Since I was deprived of my laptop for the flight, the only thing I could do was sit back, have a drink and watch a movie.
I’ll be honest with you. I did feel a little anxious about it all and about my laptop travelling separately from me, but I am glad to say that by the time we reached the luggage belt at Heathrow, my laptop was already waiting for me. So all fine in the end.
Fast forward a few weeks and we were heading back to Tel Aviv for another work trip. Scared from this first experience, we allowed even more time second time round. Wait time and questioning was similar, but this time we passed security checks without bigger issues and made it into the lounge for the long awaited breakfast.
So if you are planning your trip to Tel Aviv, don’t be discouraged. Security might be tougher than elsewhere, but nothing to be scared off.
I would however advise you allow sufficient time at Tel Aviv airport to pass security. What kept us calm was knowing that we had enough time to make our flight. I really wouldn’t want to get all anxious about the risk of missing my flight. And it didn’t seem as if anyone would simply wave you through security just to ensure you’ll make it to your gate in time.
Have you been to Tel Aviv airport? Tell me your stories.