I was out of China when, two weeks ago, the Shanghai Airport Authority announced that it was immediately implementing new, Olympics-related security procedures at the city’s two airports. Nothing in the reported accounts of these procedures indicated that they were directed at incoming passengers. But, keeping in mind that these regulations come in the wake of recent bombings in Kunming and Shanghai, the reported arrest of a Shanghai terror cell, and having experienced, first-hand, airport security in the aftermath of actual and (reportedly) imminent terror strikes in India (2006 train bombings) and the United States (9/11), I fully expected to witness/experience some kind of immigration hassle or customs kerfuffle last night.
So. Arrived at Shanghai Pudong (PVG) on Northwest #25 from Tokyo at 9:30 PM (30 minutes late). On our way to the gate, a flight attendant reminded us that China was following tightened security restrictions during the Olympic games. Per that, passengers were to keep in mind that their luggage was subject to search upon arrival. Passengers were also reminded that they should arrive extra early for their return flights out of China due to new, extra layers of security implemented at the entrances of China’s airports. Finally, and most notably (in my mind), the Northwest attendant reminded all incoming passengers to carry travel documents at all times in China, and be mindful of the fact that the Chinese authorities will be carrying out random passport checks. The last point was a new one.
Terminal Two’s immigration lines were short and very quick (then again, I was seated toward the front of the 747-400; those in back might feel differently). The officer took my passport, entry form, typed them into his computer, stamped the first open page, and sent me on my way – no questions asked. So far as I could see, nobody was getting hassled, and everyone – including me – seemed to enjoy punching the “Very Satisfied” button on the “How am I doing?” box now posted at each immigration officer’s station (ten bucks says that the average Chinese immigration officer receives higher satisfaction scores than what the average US immigration officer would receive if they were subjected to instant customer satisfaction surveys).
Next, Customs, and a notable security change. Before the new regulations, it was rare to see Customs officers pull a passenger out of line for a baggage X-ray and/or hand inspection (in fact, in my experience, such inspections are far more common at US Customs stations). But, last night, at least, all of that changed: every passenger was required to send their bags through an X-ray machine before exiting. There were two machines, both staffed by individual teams of four young men in their mid-twenties crowded around a single television monitor. In my estimation, their interest-level ranged from bored to distracted – unless a female passenger caught their interest. To be honest, they looked like they were watching the replay of the NBA Game of the Week – for, like, the sixth time.
Passengers exited through some kind of scanner that could have been mistaken for a half-finished gate. The device is outfitted with lights that – presumably – flash if the wrong kind of material is detected. If I hadn’t seen the green power switch turned to “On” I would have thought it was waiting for maintenance.
And that’s that. All in all, I’d say that it was a more efficient, and less burdensome, arrival than what I typically experience when entering the United States (keeping in mind that I experienced it late on a Sunday night). It’s also totally at odds with what I expected, based upon recent news and blog coverage of China’s ongoing security crackdown in advance of the Olympics. Now, I don’t want to downplay the impact and inconvenience that recent security measure have had on local Chinese and foreigners. But nothing I saw last night was in the least bit draconian.
[Back in mid-June, I flew into PVG from Bangkok on Thai Airways. During the descent, a flight attendant reminded passengers that “[i]t is illegal to take photos over China, or in Chinese airports.” No such reminder was offered on last night’s flight.]