Behind the News: Pauline Joyce, Dublin airport security

Following the US call for extra security measures on electronic devices, a member of staff at Dublin airport describes what it’s like to screen passengers

Pauline Joyce of Dublin airport security staff: the biggest delay is caused by people not having their liquids in a separate bag. Photograph: Garrett White

Pauline Joyce of Dublin airport security staff: the biggest delay is caused by people not having their liquids in a separate bag. Photograph: Garrett White


Two live pigeons and a set of meat cleavers are among the most extraordinary things passengers have tried to take through security at Dublin airport in Pauline Joyce’s experience. The pigeon owner said the birds were dead but the security staff member saw they were alive and took them in a towel and released them outside. The butcher knives belonged to a chef who subsequently was instructed to put them in his main luggage before departure.

“You need to be focused and alert but with experience, you have a sixth sense about something out of place or someone behaving in a certain way,” says Joyce who has worked at Dublin airport security for almost 10 years.

The thing you have to remember most, according to Joyce is that “not everyone is off to the Bahamas”.

“Each passenger has to be dealt with as an individual and you can’t assume that everyone is going on holidays. For example, I met a man recently who had returned to Ireland for a funeral and was leaving the country for the last time,” says Joyce.

When security staff notice someone behaving unusually or aggressively, they tacitly let their colleagues know. “You can inform your colleague without even speaking and then the person is observed for some time. Ninety per cent of the time you don’t have to do anything else but sometimes, you’ll tell them they are being observed and calmly ask them to calm down.” According to Joyce, when someone is taken aside for further questioning, it is done subtly so as not to alarm other passengers.

“Sometimes, when you are screening people, they say things like ‘do I look like a terrorist?’ and that’s not funny. In fact, it’s quite a serious thing to say going through an airport because there are a lot of nervous passengers around.”

Most people arrive at the airport anxious, according to Joyce. “Our job is also about calming nerves. People say things like “my passport is lost or my passport has been stolen” and then we find it for them. Passing through security is the most anxious point for most people and you see the sigh of relief when they are on the other side.”

Dublin airport is busy all the time now but Joyce says there are simple things that people can do to speed up their time passing through the security checks.

“The biggest delay is caused by people not having their liquids in a separate bag ready to go through the X-ray. If everyone remembered that you can only bring liquids under 100ml and they have to go through the X-ray machine in a clear plastic bag on their own, it would speed things up,” says Joyce.

“The most important thing about this job is that you have to like people and understand their quirky ways. We get complimented mainly by Americans on how efficient and pleasant we are. When I was trained, I was told that no matter what I encounter, I was never to take it personally and that was the best advice you could give anyone.”

Regarding the new US stipulation on having electronic devices sufficiently charged that security staff can turn them on, Joyce says the airport cannot comment on security matters, but that all US bound passengers at Dublin go through two separate screening processes as there is US pre-clearance at Dublin. Currently, all electronic equipment has to be X-rayed separately at Dublin airport. *


* This article was edited on Saturday, July 12th, 2014

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